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The days are getting shorter, even here in the sunny South.  Leaves are falling.  There’s a chill in the air on crisp, clear mornings.  The seasons are changing.  For many of us, autumn is a nostalgic time of year.  We enjoy the scents of the season – molding leaves, cooking seasonal dishes – and memories flood back.  Those memories can be sweet or melancholy.

For those of us who are sensitive to how the change of seasons affects our mood, this can be more than just a sentimental time of year.  The shorter days and cooler nights can leave us vulnerable to the blues.  That’s especially true because this time of year comes with a rat-a-tat-tat of holidays –Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hannukah – that each come with their own memories, associations and expectations.  If we’re not careful, by the end of the year we are vulnerable to a bad case of the blues.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Planning ahead and taking the initiative can help navigate this part of the year without too much emotional disruption.  Here are some suggestions:

Expectations.  Manage them.  We can look toward the holidays with unrealistic fantasies that leave us feeling overdrawn emotionally, socially and financially.  Set a realistic outlook for what you want the holidays to look like – including how much you want to spend.

Exercise.  It’s a busy time of year, with increasing opportunities to eat rich food and drink more than usual – and it happens just as the weather gets cooler, we spend more time inside and may become less active.  Set a realistic exercise program and stick to it.  Too busy for the gym?  Think of sitting as your enemy, and aim for at least 15 minutes a day of walking or other movement.

Nutrition.  It’s easy to gain weight at this time of year, which makes can make us feel bad physically and emotionally.  Set a plan for how you’re going to avoid weight gain.  If you know you’re going to a party, for instance, think about eating lighter during the week to balance overall consumption.

Don’t overdo it.  Drinking too much can disrupt sleep, add weight and generally make us feel bad.  Remember that alcohol is a central nervous system depressant.  Enjoy without overindulging.

Spend time with friends.  Strike a balance between time alone and meaningful time with people who are important to you.  Parties can be fun (especially if you’re an extrovert), but quality time with those close to us may be more nourishing (especially for introverts).

What do you enjoy about the season?  Think about what’s important to you.  Socializing?  Enjoying music and the arts?  The spirituality of the season?  Giving to others?  Make time for what’s really important to you.  Don’t let advertising campaigns or friends’ expectations  hijack  your agenda.

Light therapy.  Know that you’re really prone to seasonal affective disorder?  Get enough time outdoors on sunny days.  If you live in an area that’s seriously short on sunshine as the days grow short, look into light therapy lamps that studies suggest may offer some relief.

Thanksgiving every day, not just in November.  The age old advice to count your blessings is old precisely because it’s good advice.  Take time to meditate on what is going right in your life, what you’re grateful for.  Make time to help others, particularly those less fortunate than you.  Doing these things not only provides valuable perspective – something that easily gets lost this time of year – but it helps make the world a better place.