Welcome Autumn and my favourite time of the year. I adore September and October with their golden afternoons, the abundance of foods, and the cosier evenings. I don’t know about you but I don’t fair well in the heat, it exhausts me and the sun irritates my skin. Neither do I do well in the cold and damp, it makes my joints ache and my mood dip. Autumn, however, seems perfect. I love a crisp but sunny morning, or an afternoon wrapped up warm for a gentle walk. But something else happens in Autumn that leaves us spoonies floored and I’m not sure quite what it is. I’ve thought through a few of my theories here to try and come up with a Spoonie’s Guide to Autumn.
So every time a season changes we find ourselves having to adapt. I find at these changing points I’m forever saying ‘we’re just not used to this heat/ cold/ darker nights/ humidity/ damp’ (the list goes on). Yes us Brits like to talk/ moan incessantly about the weather, but I’m sure there’s more to it, especially for us hypersensitive beings. And it seems there is actually proof of this.
Auto Immune I remember my clinic lead, Professor Fortune, telling me that changes in season affect bodies on a cellular level and it seems there is some proof. The BBC has a couple of brilliant articles on this. The first looks at facts behind the myths such as:
- Rain gives you rheumatism – the answer is maybe but theres no conclusive evidence, its more likely power of the mind.
- Falling air pressure is a pain in the head – I’m migraine queen aka the human barometer so I swear this is true and one study from Japan seems to suggest its true
The second article is much more focused on an in depth study on how temperature change affects our genes and immunology. In brief an international team of researchers conducted a study, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to look at how this happens. They “found genes involved with immunity – the body’s defence against infection – were more active in cold months. And while this helps fight off viruses such as flu, it may trigger or worsen conditions, such as arthritis, where the body attacks itself, they say.”
The study examined how this happens on a genetic level and found that when looking at genes “a quarter showed clear signs of seasonal variation”. The genes that were of most interest included ones associated with immunity and inflammation. Interestingly it wasn’t the degree of cold that was initiating the changes but the temperature changes themselves as ‘During cold, winter months – December to February for people living north of the equator and June to August for those in the southern hemisphere – these genes were more active. When they studied people living close to the equator, where the temperatures are fairly high all year round, they noticed a different pattern. Immunity and inflammation was linked to the rainy season, when diseases such as malaria are more rife.” A change is temperature is all that is needed to trigger flare ups as it directly affect the cells and ‘that increase in inflammation could now be a risk factor for diseases of modern life’ Prof John Todd, Study author. Big stuff hey?
Viruses and other factors are also linked to an increase in symptoms and flare ups for Spoonies. Many reasons have been given to why this season is prime cold and flu season. Maybe it is because we stay indoors more, have more close contact with each other or beginning of university and schools terms mean more people mixing. One thing is for certain and thats for those, like me, who take immuno-suppressants the exposure to viruses, infection and bacteria is a headache all in itself. Immuno-suppresants mean that, surprise surprise, our immune systems are suppressed and do not work as well in fighting things off. So don’t be offended if you have a cold and I instantly grab for the hand gel. Getting a cold or virus also can trigger a flare up, even if we don’t fully develop the original cold. I get far less colds than other people but my body knows if I’ve come into contact with one. Unfortunately my immune system just cannot tell the difference between the things its supposed to be attacking and my own body. At the recent Behçets Syndrome Society conference in Bristol, Professor Fortune said that she has a date in October circled on the calendar every year for when they have to open up loads of emergency appointment slots as so many of us flare.
So how can we deal with all of this? My answer is be prepared as you can and a little acceptance.
The Nature Communications study above concluded that as well as a genetic change “diseases and other factors, such as nutrition and stress, could affect how genes function.” So lets build some of these into the survival guide.
How to embrace and survive Autumn
Autumn Activities – Try some of these spoonie friendly adventures to help with wellbeing
- Get outdoors. Take a visit to somewhere you can take in all the beauty of nature and how dramatically its changing at this time of year. Do what you can, you don’t have to hike for miles across farmland and forests to appreciate the changing landscape. You could take a car ride, visit a city park or sit in the last of the warm sunny days in your garden. Boosting vitamin d levels at this time of year can really help with the impending winter blues too.
- Get crafty. There are so many things that are nice to make as we want to spend more time being cosy indoors.
- This month I am making a wonderful leaf garland, inspired by Hannah at Seeds and Stitches
- I am embroidering fabrics in preparation for Christmas presents. If you are like me and like to hand make your Christmas presents, start now so you don’t put pressure on yourself.
- Get Cosy and warm and hermit without guilt. Get out blankets and hot water bottles ready for colder evenings. Give them a wash and some care before they do into their full winter sofa bound days. Enjoy activities that are away from screens (save those Netflix binges for sick days). Non screen time is much better for you and there are things that can occupy you. I’ve just found a new love for jigsaw puzzles!
- An Autumn Feast – Wow there’s food aplenty at this time of year, especially after a long hot summer, heres how to make the most of it. Enjoy homegrown fruits and vegetables. If you’re like me and have a garden then at the moment you’re probably overrun by crops such as tomatoes. When I’ve had the energy I have been picking them in droves and jarring them as passata. A basic recipe can be found here and its easily adapted to include herbs and spices you’ve grown too.
- Get to a local food festival and treat yourself to something scrummy. Food festivals re great at finding a huge variety of foods and you’re more likely to come across diet friendly snacks too. Ive been to two in the past three weeks including a chilli festival!
- Go on a forage. From September onwards, you can pick a huge amount for free from forests and hedgerows. Pick fruits such as elderberries, blackberries, rose hips and more. I turned my elders into a vitamin c boost spiced syrup and my hips and chillies into a spiced jelly. Theres also other treasures to be found like sloes, bullaces, crab apples, cob nuts, sweet chestnuts, mushrooms and fungi… just remember to only harvest them if you are 100% sure you know what they are!
Autumn is transition, change and drama. In slow living it’s the time to prepare for what’s ahead. Don’t rush it, save your spoons, enjoy the beauty and prepare for the winter ahead.
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