Has anyone else noticed that it seems to be getting cooler? Not necessarily in the afternoon, when it’s still summery and bright. Certainly though, in the mornings and evenings, when it’s decidedly… autumnal. For me. in the north of England, this is always more pronounced. As September rolls on, nearly all of us will notice it.
For many people, the change in temperature has a much lower impact than the change in daylight hours. Studies suggest that around a third of people in the UK are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) This is described by the NHS as a range of symptoms including low mood or even depression, lethargy or a change in sleep patterns and lack of appetite. Basically, we feel less happy when autumn arrives.
The causes of SAD aren’t fully understood but seem to be explained by reduced exposure to sunlight which stops the part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly. This in turn affects the production of melatonin which controls sleep patterns and of serotonin which can affect mood, appetite and sleep.
For teachers returning to school after the long summer break, problems can of course be compounded. Six weeks of relaxation and time spent with loved ones end abruptly. Long days and demanding schedules kick in. It can often become too much too quickly. In my days as a teacher union secretary I would expect the desperate emails and phone calls to start arriving in mid-September. The autumn term is a long one.
Being prepared for the new term, mentally as well as physically can certainly help soften the blow. There are benefits to be enjoyed from being back at school. Routine helps everyone not just children. Relish the change of tempo and start easing yourself and family back into routines a little early if possible.
The return to work also means more time with and support from colleagues. If you can find time each day this year to sit down together, that is worth far more than ten minutes shaved off the end of your day.
As we look towards building new autumnal routines this should also include accessing the precious few hours of sunshine that we do get. Having taught in Japan where each new season is acknowledged and celebrated, I now make sure I get outdoors and enjoy the autumn countryside.
Exercise can be a key factor in improving the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and of poor mental health in general. Planning regular runs, walks and cycle rides during the darker months can really benefit all aspects of your health. Make this a priority, rather than school work and you should find yourself better able to deal with the many things you need to juggle each week.
The new school year is always a huge jolt for teachers. We’re surprised to see how quickly we slip back in to old habits. By looking at how we plan to look after ourselves and our health a little more carefully we stand a far greater chance of arriving at Christmas with a spring in our step.

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