For many, fall conjures images of soft, fuzzy blankets, cozy books and movies, colorful leaves, and warm sweaters. For others, fall signals the beginning of a long, cold, dark season that won’t let up until spring—months and months away.
Love fall or hate it, the longer nights and cooler temperatures can affect us mentally. But there are ways we can improve our mental health as the seasons turn and enjoy some of the many delights fall has to offer.
Lean in to cozy
Over the last decade or so, Denmark has emerged as the expert on cozy living, commonly called the “hygge lifestyle.” Hygge is a quality of coziness and comfort that encourages feelings of contentment and well-being.
Living in a country with long, dark winters year after year (where the sun may not rise until 9 a.m. and sunset is as early as 4 p.m.), Danes learned to lean in to the cozy aspects of life to combat the gloom that can accompany fall and winter. This is one of the reasons Denmark is consistently ranked as one of the happiest nations in the world. We usually can’t control what happens outside our homes, but we can make our homes a happy refuge, which has far-reaching effects.
What does coziness have to do with mental health?
Lighting a candle may provide good ambiance, but how much does cozy living really affect mental health?
Quite a lot, it turns out.
The hygge lifestyle is about more than being cozy for the fun of it; it’s all about doing things that help us relax and make us happier. Living this way is bound to affect how we feel, both physically and mentally. Here are just a few of the benefits cozy living:
Less stress, anxiety, and depression
Increased feelings of self-worth
More optimism and gratitude
More calm and peace in the places you spend the most time in
Improved social connections
Better self-care habits
Let the turning leaves be your cue to start settling into a cozier lifestyle. Here are a few activities that can help improve your mental health and make fall a season of joy and warmth.
If it’s too chilly to go outside and enjoy the scenery, bring the scenery inside. Decorate your home with plants, wood elements, neutral colors—anything that reminds you of how beautiful fall can be. If Halloween is a big deal at your house, Halloween decorations can add some whimsy to the rooms you see in every day, too.
2. Dim the lights
Pull out the candles and lamps and turn down the lights. (And if you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, by all means use that too.) Flickering flames add an ephemeral glow and ambiance to any room, which can be a nice break from the bright, harsh lights that usually illuminate our days. Going full-on 18th century with candles in every room probably won’t be feasible (or wise), but consider turning one room into your cozy room, free from bright lights and electronics. This room doesn’t need to be anything fancy, as long as it’s a place where you feel safe and relaxed.
3. Keep soft textures within reach
Blankets, sweaters, hats—it’s no accident that the things we turn to for warmth are often soft and fuzzy. Soft textures are soothing, taking away the sting from even the chilliest winds. Fall is the ideal time to go all out with soft textures indoors too, whether it’s throw pillows, rugs, blankets, or pillows. Simply snuggling with something soft on a cold evening can make you feel safe, comfortable, and relaxed.
4. Indulge in comforting smells and tastes
Notice the sensory theme going on? All five senses play a role in bringing cozy, peaceful calm into your life. Food is doubly effective, appealing to both your taste and smell. There’s nothing better than coming home from a long day (or even just a mad dash to take the garbage out) to the smell of homemade bread or the ready-to-eat crockpot meal you threw together before you left the house. Even the simplest of meals can make your home feel more welcoming, especially if it’s tied to good memories.
5. Surround yourself with friends and family
Staying socially active is important for mental health no matter what time of year it is. With people spending more time inside, fall evenings are made for game nights, movie parties, dinner groups, and many other low-key activities that give us an excuse to bask in the warm glow of friends and family.
6. Get outside whenever you can
Most cozy activities take place inside, but don’t let that stop you from venturing outside. In fact, spending time outside is one of the best ways to support your mental health. Even if you’re not a fan of the cold, fall is certainly not lacking in the outdoor activities department: hikes, nature walks, going for a drive to check out the colorful leaves, and football games are just the tip of the iceberg. So grab your favorite sweater and comfiest shoes and enjoy the fresh, crisp air as often as you can.
7. Keep things simple
After the hustle and bustle of spring and summer, fall provides the welcome chance to slow down and enjoy the little things. It may take some effort at first to simplify things like meal planning and how you spend your family time, but you’ll be glad you did once dinner is over and you have an entire evening to relax at home.
8. Turn off electronics
Turn off the TV, put down your phone, and close your laptops and tablets from time to time—you know it’s good for you. And you may be surprised by how much time this frees up for things like meditating, reading, catching up with friends, or making something with your hands. If nothing else, you’ll at least get a break from worldly distractions for a while, something we all need.
When all else fails, get cozy
There’s a lot we can do to keep our spirits up during the darker months, and many of them are simple changes. A hygge lifestyle shouldn’t be limited to just fall and winter, but cozy things are especially enjoyable when cuddled up with a fuzzy blanket and mug of hot cocoa when the weather is cold and blustery outside. Keep coziness top of mind this fall whenever you need a mental health boost.