Seasonal transitions can be challenging for the body and the mind, but there are some easy ways you can stay healthy this fall.
Fall is in the air. The late afternoon light assumes a golden clarity; dusk spreads her wings across the sky earlier each evening. Soon the mornings will be refreshingly crisp and one day we’ll wake up to a sparkling expanse of frost glittering in the dawn.
But in between these long-awaiting fall sights, summer lingers. Brisk mornings give way to sweltering afternoons, and shifting jet streams yield turbulent winds and pop-up storms. And in this dance between the seasons it’s easy to get, well, discombobulated. Sudden changes in weather and temperature wreak havoc on the respiratory and nervous systems, while the steadily waning daylight and headlong rush into the holiday season can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression.
The lungs are delicate and vital organs, and without breath there is no life.
The lungs are the point of contact between our innermost recesses and the outer world, exchanging carbon dioxide for the oxygen that will sustain our bodies. Unfortunately, sometimes that oxygen carries with it environmental contaminants and pathogens that stress the lungs. Some people are born with strong lungs and are largely unfazed by these challenges. But for others the lungs are a weak point and susceptible to imbalances as a matter of course. If you’re one of the latter, fall might be an especially bad time for you, with colds, sinus infections, and seasonal allergies becoming regular occurrences.
We take in so much of the world through our lungs, but they’re also our avenue for self-expression. Our breath carries our emotions out into the world, the lungs and throat our channel. When the respiratory system is out of balance our emotional expression can follow suit. This often manifests as the inability to speak up, to stand up for ourselves. We swallow our words, storing these feelings in our lungs until they make our chests ache.
Fall is the season of abundance, but it’s also the season of grief.
We revel in the harvest of late summer and early fall, relishing the return of cool-weather crops like cauliflower and cabbage. But there’s a shadow side to the harvest. Darkness and hunger lurks in the cultural memory, an echo of lean winters and the threat of starvation. Many of us are summer children, unprepared for the cold test of patience that is winter. So while we celebrate we also mourn the imminent loss of the sun, of birdsong and warm breezes.
This grief lives in the lungs. If your lungs are healthy, you might feel a passing sense of sadness, a little pang of melancholy when the last leaf falls from the tree outside your window. But if you’re already holding grief in your lungs–a bad breakup, loss of a job, bereavement–fall can bring these greater pains to the surface. Sometimes this manifests as chronic physical symptoms like bronchitis and frequent colds, and other times it shows itself as anxiety and depression. The waning daylight can also trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in some people. Good nutrition, exercise, and herbs can help but what’s really needed in the case of deeply held grief is counseling or other therapies that will bring release for these stuck emotions.
Fall can bring whirlwind changes, but it has much to offer for women who are committed to living in tune with nature.
However you feel about fall, it comes around every year so it’s best to be prepared. Keep in mind that fall brings the winds of change–situations and relationships that felt stagnant in the summer months may suddenly shift (for better or worse) as the weather cools. It’s a time to slow down, to assess the harvest your life is yielding, and to make necessary changes. This season calls us to turn inward, to prepare ourselves for the cold months on the horizon.
In the garden, fall is not only for harvesting but also for releasing. We remove dead plants, prune and compost old stalks, and pull the weeds that inevitably creep in during the summer. When the spent growth is cleared away from perennial herbs, they often produce a flush of new growth made lush by the cooler weather. So it is in our own lives: when we clear away the accumulated detritus of the year so far, we make room for our own renewed growth.
Stay healthy this fall with these 7 easy tips.
When I’m feeling physically run down or emotionally out of sorts during the fall, these are my favorite ways to come back to center. Remember, though, that fall is the time to slow down–so don’t think you have to implement all these at once. Read through the list and see which ones speak to you, then pick one or two to focus on to stay healthy this fall. You can always revisit this list in future years!
Eat seasonal root vegetables.
Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, and rutabagas are grounding foods. They grow at the surface of the soil or below the earth, sending their roots deep and storing important vitamins and minerals in their flesh. Root vegetables need to be cooked in order to be easily digestible. In the spring and summer, our digestive fire burns hotter and we can tolerate some raw foods. But in the fall and winter, the fire dies down a bit. Raw food can dampen the fire even further, so cook your carrots in the fall and winter.
To get the most nutrition from root vegetables, avoid boiling them–their water-soluble vitamins go down the drain with the cooking water (or pot likker, as we say in the South). Instead, try roasting them on high heat for a caramelized exterior and soft interior. Be sure to eat root vegetables with high-quality fats to improve vitamin absorption.
Drink nourishing broths.
Warm liquids help keep the digestive fires stoked during cold weather. And if you make your own broth, you can customize it with a variety of immunity-boosting vegetables and herbs. You’ll get the most benefit from broths made with bones–chicken, beef, lamb, or fish–but vegetable broths are also helpful. The key to cooking broths is low and slow: simmer everything on low heat for at least 8 hours.
Alliums–garlic, onions, leeks–are a key ingredient in immune-boosting broths. They have an affinity for the lungs and are particularly useful when recovering from respiratory ailments. Sea vegetables like dulse, kombu, and wakame impart iodine and other trace minerals to your broth, and medicinal mushrooms like shiitake and reishi offer immune-boosting properties. Burdock root is an herb sometimes used as a vegetable and it contains inulin, a pre-biotic that promotes gut health. And common kitchen herbs like thyme and oregano are antimicrobial powerhouses that will help you stay healthy this fall.
Air out your home.
If you’re like me and live in a place where air conditioning is a must, cool fall days are the time to open up your windows and let some fresh air in. Good insulation and weatherstripping are features of energy-efficient houses. But they also mean that the air indoors grows stagnant and stale over the course of the summer. If you’re prone to respiratory ailments during fall, be sure to give your home a good dusting when you air it out.
Try sleeping with your windows open when night temperatures are in the 50s and 60s. It not only lets fresh air circulate through your home, but also lowers the ambient temperature, leading to more restful sleep. Breathing fresh air as frequently as possible helps strengthen weak lungs.
Add herbal steams to your routine.
Herbal steams are my go-to home remedy for colds, congestion, and sinus infections. They’re easy to make at home: all you need is dried herbs, a pot with a lid, water, a heat source, and a towel. To make an herbal steam, you simmer herbs in a covered pot for 10-15 minutes. After the pot cools for 5 minutes, take the lid off, lean over the pot, and cover your head with a towel to create a steam tent. The longer you can stay under the tent the better.
Herbal steams work because they carry volatile oils from the herbs directly into the respiratory tract where they’re easily absorbed by your mucous membranes. Many of these volatile oils are antimicrobial and help kill the pathogens causing that swollen, stuffy nose or rasping cough. Meanwhile, the steam soothes dry and irritated tissues with relaxing heat and moisture. Some of my favorite herbs for respiratory steams are thyme, sage, lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, oregano, peppermint, and chamomile.
Audit your calendar and your to-do list.
Fall is the time to slow down, to let go of things that no longer serve us. As such, it’s the perfect time to perform an audit of your calendar and to-do list. Keep in mind that as the days shorten and the nights lengthen, our natural inclination is to do less and sleep more. We’ve turned that impulse on its head with an increasingly long holiday season, full of expectations and events. If you find yourself regularly stressed and depressed during the winter, fall is the time to get out ahead of it.
Evaluate your current commitments and projects and release what you can. Keep only what matters the most–for your job, your family, and your personal health and well-being. When you’re asked to take on additional responsibilities, check and see if the benefits outweigh the cost of your time and energy. And don’t feel guilty when you say “no” to a commitment that doesn’t work for you.
Take a solo retreat.
Taking some time for yourself is a great way to honor the seasonal changes of fall and engage in some nourishing self-care. Your solo retreat doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does need to be structured. Plan for several hours of alone time, preferably in an outdoor space. This could be a local or state park, a botanical garden, or your own land. Eat beforehand or pack a lunch, and be sure to wear clothing and shoes appropriate for the weather and location.
The purpose of the solo retreat is to disconnect from everyday life for a little while and reconnect with nature and natural cycles. Be present, wherever you are. Observe the signs of fall–colorful leaves, migrating birds, the gentle hush of late afternoon. Take a journal with you and write or draw what you see. Spend some time in self-reflection, asking yourself: how does fall make me feel? Tune in with your body and see what it tells you. And for a grounding experience, take off your shoes and socks and put your bare feet on the earth for a while.
I’ve talked a lot about the grief inherent in fall. But there’s also a celebratory side to this time of year. Fall is the season of abundance, and gratitude goes hand in hand with the harvest. That’s why it’s called “Thanksgiving” after all! But you shouldn’t wait for one day of the year to express your gratitude: it should be a daily practice. The more we express our gratitude for the world around us–the plants we eat and wear, the insects that pollinate the plants, the birds that eat the insects, and so on–the more we feel grounded and present in our bodies. Focusing on what you’re grateful for instead of what you lack creates a powerful shift, especially if you’re prone to anxiety and depression.
This fall, try a 30 day gratitude practice. Take five minutes each day to write down the things you’re grateful for. The first few days might feel stilted and awkward, but when you continue to show up daily the gratitude begins to flow.