Fall is the season for building mindfulness and resilience

cheerful young woman in a cornfield in autumn envato elements
Yes, the easy summer days are behind us — but if you are willing to brave the chill, autumn holds a special set of rewards. (Photo: Envato Elements)
Whether you like it or not, fall is here. Soon the weather will get colder, the leaves will die, and the nights will stretch longer than the days. Outdoor pools have closed and the holidays are coming. Another year is dying; that is just how it goes.اضافة اعلان

At least, that is the way autumn often is cast — as a time of aging and decay. Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley compared autumn’s falling leaves to corpses in the grave. William Shakespeare called it “Death’s second self,” when youth burns to ashes.

For many who struggle with seasonal depression in the winter months, fall is when symptoms start to emerge. A few studies even suggest that if you are “ruminative” in the autumn, deeply preoccupied with your thoughts, you may be at more risk for winter depression. Changing the clocks in the fall is associated with depressive episodes (changing them back in the spring is not).

Psychologists say feelings that often crop up in autumn stem from our discomfort with change and our uncertainty about what that change will bring. The melancholy we feel is a form of grief: mourning the lost sunlight, the ease of summertime, and the greenery that abounds during warm weather.

But it is not all bad. Fall also brings with it bright, brisk days, pumpkin patches, and cozy sweaters. Somewhere in the crunching leaves, crackling fires, and chilly air, you might discover a feeling of possibility, even electricity.

And all of these things — the anxiety, the promise, and even the rumination — make autumn the ideal season to build resilience and practice mindfulness.

For Jelena Kecmanovic, founder of Arlington/DC Behavior Therapy Institute, the fall is reminiscent of exploring the mountains near her home in Sarajevo, in what was then Yugoslavia and is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. There, she spent the first 20 years of her life during one of that country’s most prosperous eras. But in the 1990s, she was forced to flee during a bloody four-year siege of her city.

Today, she is an expert in resilience, a concept centering on the capacity to adapt to challenging life experiences. Kecmanovic described autumn as the ideal season to develop an acceptance of uncertainty — embracing the unsettled feeling that may accompany the shift from warm-weather routines.

Psychologists have found that the thought of change, the ending of one thing, the beginning of another and, yes, perhaps our own mortality, underlies a great deal of anxiety. Some struggle with “intolerance of uncertainty” more than others. This tendency was first named in the 1990s by a team of Canadian psychologists and has since been identified as a risk factor for poor mental health.

“A massive amount of research has been showing that intolerance for distress, for discomfort, for impermanence, for uncertainty, predicts bad outcomes in the long run,” Kecmanovic said.

But intolerance of uncertainty is changeable. One way to build tolerance is to lean into it — to cultivate uncertainty rather than running away from it.

“The avoidance of suffering produces suffering,” said Kelly Wilson, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Mississippi and a co-developer of an approach known as acceptance and commitment therapy, which encourages people to stop denying unpleasant emotions, and instead to accept them.

Leaning into uncertainty means putting aside routines, which Kecmanovic calls “cushions that make us feel like we have control”.

Bike through a new neighborhood without a map. Set out during a lengthening autumn night to do some stargazing. Go for a walk on a day when it just might rain. You might get lost or soaked, or be unable to see any stars. You might feel uncomfortable or like you are wasting your time.

But those small moments of uncertainty, Kecmanovic said, will build a tolerance or even appreciation for times when you don’t know what’s ahead and feel out of control.

“It’s the opposite of ‘I have assurance of how it’s going to be in the next half an hour or next day or next year,’” she said. “It’s like, in this moment I’m alive. And that’s enough.”

Another strategy experts suggest for soothing seasonal anxiety is to step back and simply observe the world around you. Quietly sit on a park bench and watch a tree drop its leaves, for instance.

Kecmanovic said that weaving bigger themes of nature and purpose into quiet moments of meditation could help calm the sense of anxiety around short-term uncertainty, giving a broader perspective.

For Jana Long, co-founder of the Black Yoga Teacher’s Alliance in Baltimore, fall is a time for samyama, a concept in yoga referring to the meditative practice of observing an object, becoming absorbed in it.

Sometimes, Long considers the grass after the final mowing of the year, reflecting on the meaning of this action for a plant. Other times, she said, she examines the roses in her garden that need pruning before winter. In such moments, it is important to stop thinking, analyzing, or running internal dialogues about work and troubles, she said.

A teacher once demonstrated this idea to Long by placing a glass of water on the table. He started by saying he saw the glass. “And then he continued to talk about how the mind shifts: ‘I like the glass.’ See, now that’s something else. And then ‘I want the glass.’ That’s something else,” she said. “But can you just see the glass? That’s practicing samyama.”

Time and again, this kind of mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and increase well-being. For some, practicing mindfulness can shift the big picture of how they see their lives. For most, it’s simply a useful tool to find a sense of peace.

“For me, it’s also about harvesting what has occurred in the year,” said Larry Ward, a meditation teacher and founder of the Lotus Institute in Pataskala, Ohio. “What has this summer brought to you and your life? What has this spring brought to you?”

“Harvesting” means taking stock of the year (or years) behind you. And to do this, you must collect memories without judgment or self-loathing. For instance, Wilson said he “acted poorly” the last time he saw his brother before his untimely death. But rather than push that memory away, he holds it as a part of the relationship.

“I keep the thorn to keep the rose,” he said.

Autumn will probably always hold some whisper of decay and mortality for humans. But embracing that sadness is important.

“This is how life is,” said the professor, “sweet and sad, poured from the same vessel in equal measure.”

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