Fall is the season of deepening shadows; of longer nights and ever-shorter days. The trees turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, red and purple as they shed their leaves and sink their roots deeper into the earth; animals gather food and seek shelter for a long winter sleep. There’s a slowing down of the summer festivities as we unpack our cool-weather clothes and shift into a quieter, more introspective season.
This time of year makes me want to cozy up with a mug of hot tea and spend whole mornings writing, sketching, or dreaming. I can just as easily spend afternoons cooking green chile or spiced apple cider while my house fills with delightful aromas. Fall seems to bring out my creativity, and yet the mood is bittersweet as the daylight begins to fade and the nights grow colder, reminding me that winter is on its way.
As a gardener, I feel a little melancholy around this time of year because fall brings the end of the growing season. My beautiful plants that thrived and bore fruit during the spring and summer months are starting to die back. In a few weeks it’ll be time to clear out the garden beds and get them ready for winter. The summer went by too fast, as it always does. And yet, I understand: the earth needs its time of rest. Things have to die and go back to the soil so that new life can come back next year.
And just as the earth needs time to regenerate, so, too, do we need periods of quiet and stillness for rest and contemplation. Fall provides us the perfect opportunity to slow down, to take stock of our lives, and to give thanks for all that we have. Because it’s a season of change and transition, fall can also leave us feeling a little anxious and unsettled, and our bodies can become more vulnerable to illness as the weather turns cold.
I’m always an advocate of self-care no matter what time of year it is, but as the fall arrives it seems especially helpful and important for us to nourish ourselves in various ways — at least, it does for me. So in case your body, mind or soul is also feeling in need of a little TLC, here are eight of my favorite self-care tips for the fall season.
1. Cultivate gratitude for your life.
If you don’t already have a gratitude practice of some sort, now is a great time to begin one. As the summer activities wind down, it might be easier to find a little more space in our days for quietly reflecting on everything we have to be thankful for. According to Psychology Today, practicing gratitude on a regular basis improves our physical and mental health, makes us more empathic, and increases our self-esteem.
And the more often you take the time to be thankful, the more you’ll find you have to be thankful for. You may start noticing smaller, more subtle things that you’ve previously taken for granted as you shift towards a more positive mentality. Cultivating a sense of gratitude will open your eyes to the beauty that is already around you.
Having a gratitude practice doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy. It can be as simple as spending five minutes before you get out of bed in the morning. If you like, you can keep a specific journal for writing lists each day of what and whom you feel grateful for. I like to give thanks before each meal because I feel lucky to have food on my table (not to mention a wonderful partner to share it with).
Another idea? Every time something positive happens in your day, write it on a slip of paper and drop it into a jar. Keep filling this jar with beautiful moments, uplifting experiences, and even inspiring words people have said. On days when you aren’t feeling so great and need a boost, you can open the jar and read these stories of sunny moments to lift your spirits and remind you of how wonderful life can be.
2. Ground yourself through meditation.
I wrote a previous post about how beneficial meditation can be, and how little time it truly takes to have a regular meditation practice. The changing weather of fall can leave us feeling a little extra stirred-up, so I like to focus on re-grounding at this time of year. I find it helps me stay focused and centered.
There are tons of ways to do a grounding meditation, but one of the best ways involves (literally) sitting on the ground. Go outside on a nice day and sit underneath a favorite tree, perhaps with your back against the trunk. Once you’re comfortable, close your eyes and drop your attention inward.
Take time first to notice your breath and the way your body feels, and then sense the earth beneath you. Visualize sending roots from your sit bones down into the soil, going deeper and deeper with each breath. Each time you inhale, imagine drawing nourishment from the earth into your body. Stay here for several more minutes, mindfully breathing and deepening your roots as far into the earth as you can imagine.
3. Keep a journal.
Because fall can provide more space for stillness and reflection, it’s also an excellent time for personal journaling. I’ve been keeping a journal in some form since I was 10 years old, and I can’t imagine giving it up. For so many years now, it’s been my private space for thinking, feeling, reflecting, processing, dreaming, and making meaning of all that has happened in my life. It’s allowed me to explore my mind, heart and soul at a level of depth that I wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise. It’s helped me develop my awareness of who I am and what’s important to me.
There’s no “right” way to keep a journal. Some people use theirs for documenting what happens in their day-to-day lives, and others write more sporadically. I don’t write in my journal anywhere near every day. Usually I only feel moved to journal when something important is happening in my life and I need to sort through my thoughts and feelings about it. But every person is different, and your journal can be whatever it needs to be to support you in your journey. No matter what your personal practice looks like, journaling can be profoundly healing, impactful, and illuminating.
And one of the best parts? If you keep journaling over the years, you’ll start to accumulate collections of old journals that you can read through for years to come. You’ll be able to trace the changes that happen in your life over time and the ways you evolve as a person because of it. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can take long walks down memory lane and spend hours reminiscing about bygone days. Sometimes, reading through old journals can even provide fresh insights about life or remind you of long-forgotten dreams. These letters from your previous self are a gift unlike any other.
4. Go for a walk in nature.
Another way to re-center yourself is to take walks outside. Being outdoors boosts your energy, reduces stress, and improves sleep, and if you live in a temperate area, you won’t want to miss the magical fall colors! They usually only last for a few weeks, so make sure to get outside and enjoy them while you can.
Leave your phone at home (or put it in airplane mode) and treat yourself to a mindful stroll through a park, open space, or along a hiking trail, savoring the sights and sounds you encounter along the way. You may want to bring a camera so you can take pictures of anything and everything that inspires you. Go as slowly as you want — you can even turn it into a walking meditation, only taking a single footstep each time you breathe. You’ll be amazed at how much more you notice and take in when you slow down the pace.
5. Take a hot bath.
Nothing is more luxurious and soothing than a hot bath. The heat calms your mind and relaxes your muscles, and you can add other elements such as bubbles, a book, or a cup of tea for a truly indulgent experience.
Set aside 30 minutes when you won’t be interrupted, then draw a bath with water as hot as you can comfortably handle. Add scented oils, a bundle of herbs, a bath bomb, or whatever accoutrements you’d like to the water. Pour yourself something to drink, light a candle, put on some music, and let yourself soak for up to 15-20 minutes. (Just make sure to drink some water afterwards since the heat can be dehydrating.)
6. Give yourself a massage.
Doing a little self-massage can be a lovely practice, especially just before bed or immediately after a shower or bath. Massage is famous for its stress-reducing, pain-relieving benefits, but it also increases feelings of connection and well-being. And in the fall, giving yourself (or your partner) a little love can leave you feeling comforted and nourished.
For extra grounding effects, focus on the feet and lower legs. You can use a scented massage lotion or oil, if you have one, or you can just grab an oil you already have at home (such as sunflower, olive, or coconut oil). Apply a small amount of oil or lotion to your hands, then use your thumbs and fingers to massage the soles of the feet, toes, ankles, calves, and muscles of the shins. Cover feet with warm socks when you’re done to help them soak in the moisture.
7. Sip on hot tea.
Although I’ve become a coffee convert recently, I’ve always been a tea lover at heart. “Real” teas, made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, come in varieties such as white, green, black, oolong, and pu-erh (all coming from different ways of oxidizing and preparing the tea leaves), but if you prefer a caffeine-free variety, there are all kinds of herbal teas that are lovely for sipping on chilly days.
Teas with chamomile or lavender have relaxing effects, while peppermint or ginger brews can help with digestion. Herbal teas such as nettle, raspberry or blackberry leaf are full of nutrients and have a pleasant, earthy taste. Hibiscus or fruit blends have a delicious sweet-tart flavor that will leave you craving more. For a quiet afternoon indoors, try brewing a whole pot of tea and slowly enjoying it cup by cup.
8. Cook with warming spices.
When fall arrives and the weather starts to cool down, I like to start eating more warming, spicy foods. Southwestern pork green chile is always a favorite of mine, but soups, stews, and spiced meats with roasted vegetables are other fall-time options.The foods don’t have to be spicy, necessarily (although I like a little heat), but spices like chile peppers, garlic, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon will heat you up and may even have some immune-boosting benefits.
What are your thoughts on these ideas? Do you have any favorite ways to take care of yourself in the fall? Please share in the comments below.