9 Ways To Beat The Autumn Doldrums
As summer recedes into the distance, many Americans are dreading the months that lie ahead. Todd Patkin shares nine tactics to help you beat the grumpiness you may feel as you return to your routine.
Labor Day has come and gone—and if you’re like many American workers, you aren’t happy about it. Summer, with its relaxed schedule, swimming pools, and family trips, is officially over, and to make matters worse, there’s no vacation in sight until Thanksgiving. That double whammy is enough to make anyone feel even grumpier than usual on the morning commute into work. And unfortunately, that attitude tends to only grow worse throughout a hectic day and a frustrating fight through traffic on the way home, where chores, bills, and other drudgeries await you.
But according to Todd Patkin, the next few months don’t have to be as dull and disheartening as you’re envisioning.
“Instead of impatiently waiting for the holidays to get here already, you can choose to make the most of September, October, and November—and maybe even enjoy them,” says Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95, www.findinghappinessthebook.com). “You don’t have to allow—yes, I said allow—a lack of three-day weekends and warm temperatures to ratchet up your stress and tip your mood into grumpy territory. You have more control over your happiness than you may think.”
Patkin points out that many people live their lives reactively, letting outside events and circumstances capture their attention and determine their moods.
“When you live your life that way, you’re completely at the mercy of so many negative influences: everything from traffic jams to workdays that seem to drag on forever to the Debbie Downer in the next cubicle who won’t stop complaining…and so much more,” he explains. “It’s not surprising that happiness rarely has a fighting chance, especially during times of the year that have more ‘routine’ in them than ‘rest and relaxation’! However, when you stop living reactively and begin to approach your life in a more conscious manner, you’ll notice a measurable difference in your attitude.”
Here, Patkin shares nine choices you can make that will dissipate the post-Labor Day blues, and help you to make the most of the time between now and the holidays (and throughout the year!):
Get enough sleep. It’s easy to ignore the value of sleep when you’re busy. After all, it’s worth going to bed a few hours later if you can cross a few more things off of your to-do list, right? Wrong. If you skimp on sleep, you’re virtually guaranteeing that the next day won’t be your best. It’s difficult to muster up a positive attitude about anything—your job or otherwise—when you’re yawning, your eyes are grainy, and you’re relying on the coffeepot to make you feel halfway human.
“Listen to what your body is telling you and go to bed at a reasonable hour unless there’s a true emergency you need to deal with,” Patkin instructs. “And realize that the quality as well as the quantity of sleep you get is important. Exercise can be a huge help here. Not only does it help to relieve and manage the stress that may be keeping you awake; it will also help you to fall asleep faster and get a better quality of rest.”
Start the day off on the right foot. Have you ever noticed that the quality of your morning tends to set the tone for the whole day? If you’re rushing around the house like a chicken with its head cut off as you try to get dressed, find the car keys, make sure your children eat breakfast, and argue with your spouse about who should swing by the grocery store, you’re going to carry your irritated mood into the office whether you mean to or not.
“Do what you can to minimize the morning hassle,” Patkin suggests. “Little things will make a big difference. Lay out clothes and prepack briefcases and bookbags the night before. Plan out what you’re going to eat for breakfast each day. Resist the temptation to push the snooze button five times before finally crawling out from under the covers 20 minutes later than you meant to. And most importantly, try to put your mind in a positive place instead of ruminating on all of the things you’re dreading in the next 24 hours. Even if it means getting up 10 or 15 minutes earlier, I find that taking a little time to meditate and/or read something motivational before I go out to face each day really helps.”
Stop expecting perfection. No, the day-in, day-out routine of going to work and making sure your house doesn’t fall apart may never be terribly exciting and glamorous. But we often make our own perceptions of our lives so much worse by having unrealistic expectations of what we should be able to accomplish.
“If you expect your life to look like what you see on TV, Pinterest, or Facebook, you’re setting yourself up to feel unhappiness every time you look at your less-than-tidy living room or think about the humdrum plans you have for the weekend,” Patkin points out. “The truth is, real life is often messy, mundane, and unpredictable. You’ll never be able to make it perfect—but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable or fulfilling. One of the most valuable things you can learn to do is to forgive yourself for your own mistakes and give yourself permission to break free of the cycle of self-blame and negativity that causes you to be stuck demanding perfection from yourself in every situation. Trust me, the relaxation and contentment you’ll feel as a result will make this the best post-Labor Day season you’ve had in a long time.”
Take time to celebrate your successes. It’s easy to get caught up in life’s momentum and immediately switch mental gears to focus on the next project (or problem or full-blown crisis) after you check something off of your to-do list. Problem is, that’s a recipe for exhaustion and burnout.
“Even if it’s as simple as taking a bubble bath or savoring your favorite latte concoction on the way home from work, do something nice for yourself to celebrate whenever you experience a win,” Patkin urges. “Bask in compliments when you receive them. Share the praise you received from your boss with your family. When you allow yourself to savor the thrill of victory, whether it’s a large or small one, your outlook will immediately improve—and you’ll be more motivated and self-confident as you move into the future.”
Censor what you say… Sure, if you chose to, you could spend hours griping about everything you’re dissatisfied with: an overloaded schedule, a demanding boss, rebellious kids, the cost of repairing your car—and the list goes on. But in the end, complaining drains your energy and accomplishes nothing. That’s why Patkin advises you to put your crappy commute behind you instead of describing it to your officemates, for example, and to refrain from elaborating on the fact that you wish it was Friday already.
“It’s very important to get negativity out of your mind and avoid the victim mentality,” he comments. “When you verbally exaggerate how bad something is or comment that your life ‘sucks,’ that perception becomes your reality. Keeping negativity out of your conversation will take some practice, but stick with it—and give yourself a mental pat on the back whenever you catch yourself choosing not to broadcast a complaint or putting a positive spin on a situation that could be interpreted negatively.”
…and what you listen to. Just as what you talk about can affect your attitude and outlook, so can what you listen to. (In other words, no more using water cooler gripefests as your morning entertainment!) In all areas of your life, try to back away from people who constantly complain, nag, and criticize. They’ll drain the energy and optimism from everyone around them—and no matter how positive your attitude may be to start, you aren’t immune from their powers.
“Negative people crave pity and sympathy,” Patkin explains. “So if you have to interact with them, be understanding, but don’t overdo it—and exit the conversation as soon as you can without being rude. Also, make an effort to hang out more with positive people. Their outlooks will rub off on you and you will be able to build more mutually beneficial relationships. Remember, your attitude will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so please put some thought into who these people are! Do you want to be someone who makes the most of each day or someone who wishes life away?”
Go on the offensive against stress. One reason why we tend to have the post-Labor Day blues is that the following months create the perfect storm of stressful conditions: Kids are back in school, and schedules quickly become hectic. The end-of-year work crunch is approaching. And even the approaching holidays can be a big source of anxiety. But you don’t have to take all of that stress lying down. In the next few months, make it your goal to neutralize a few of the situations that are causing you frustration and worry.
“Go through your life and figure out what you have control over and can change,” Patkin instructs. “Is there an obligation you can cut? Would splitting up the household chores in a new way give you more time to handle other responsibilities? On Sundays, could you preassemble and freeze meals to thaw and eat throughout the week so you aren’t as rushed in the evenings? Is it possible to talk to your boss about working from home one or two days a week? Basically, look for ways to change the status quo in your favor so that you feel less dread when you look ahead.”
Think about the b-word. That’s balance, in case you were wondering. It’s one of those words that are overused to the point of being meaningless, and many of us wouldn’t know what a healthy work-life balance looked like if it hit us in the face. Because our computers and phones make it so easy to take work home with us (and home to work with us), lines are more blurred than ever.
“It’s not always easy, but try to make a conscious effort to keep home and work as separate as possible,” Patkin says. “Checking email on your smartphone all evening means that you can never really ‘turn off,’ which leads to burnout and exhaustion. Likewise, texting with your spouse about your in-laws’ upcoming visit will distract you at work and lower your productivity, making it more likely you’ll have to take work home.
“And what about those occasions when you just can’t wrap everything up by quitting time? Even if it means staying at work a little later, it might be better to finish up that proposal at your desk instead of bringing it home. That way, when you do finally walk through the front door, you can spend the remainder of the evening engaging with your family. When you’re home, it’s important to really be there—mentally as well as physically.”
Sprinkle your calendar with fun. The fact that there are no set-aside vacation days between now and Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean that you’re looking at several months devoid of enjoyment. Now, and throughout the year, it’s smart to inject regular doses of fun into your life.
“Avoid packing your schedule so full of obligations that you don’t have time to pursue your woodworking hobby, or to go on a date night with your spouse, or to take your family hiking on the weekends,” Patkin advises. “Planning enjoyable activities gives you things to look forward to and rejuvenates you. Along with your family, try to find and take advantage of upcoming seasonal activities in your area: fall arts and crafts fairs, pumpkin picking, hayrides, etc.”
“You may never be able to create a holiday conveniently scheduled in the middle of October, but you can determine whether you merely live through the next few months or enjoy them,” Patkin concludes. “Remember, happiness never just happens, whether you’re vacationing in a tropical paradise or in the midst of a thoroughly typical day at home. The choices you make regarding your actions and attitude have a huge impact on how grumpy you are—or aren’t. So don’t wait around for the post-Labor Day blues to bring you down. Proactively banish them!”
About the Author:
Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In, Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People, and The Sunny Days Secret: A Guide for Finding Happiness (coming 2014), grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.
About the Books:
Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.findinghappinessthebook.com.
Twelve Weeks to Finding Happiness: Boot Camp for Building Happier People (New Focus Press, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-9885092-0-7, $13.99) is available from Amazon.com.