The Best Self-Care Habits to Start This Fall

These expert-backed tips will help you give your wellness routine the fall makeover it deserves.

New Self-Care Habits to Start this Fall
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Although the new year is typically marked by Champagne, ball drops, and Capricorn season on January 1, it’s far from the only time in which you might be compelled to start fresh. Autumn, which officially kicks off with the Fall Equinox on September 22, brings not only a new school season but a transitional vibe that lends itself to self-improvement. 

“It's the window of time before we prepare for the year to close, and it often causes us to truly reflect on how the year has gone well and where our growth areas lie,” explains Lauren Cook, PsyD, MMFT, a San Diego-based psychologist. “The key is that we take the time to be intentional now and not postpone our plans for self-care all the way until January. This is still valuable time.”

That said, here are expert-backed self-care habits you can adopt to step up your wellness routine this fall.

1. Set aside time to connect with — and help — others.

When you hear the term “self-care,” you probably can’t help but think of going for a pedicure, squeezing a quick streaming yoga class into your day, or lying in the bath with a glass of your favorite wine — in other words, activities that are often done solo. But making a point to spend time with your people is actually a wellness-must that most of the experts we spoke with emphasized.

Dana Udall, Ph.D., Headspace’s Chief Clinical Officer, recommends thinking about how you can connect with and be of service to the people in your life. “After all, they’re stuck in this unpleasant weather too, and it’s been shown that being kind to others can improve your mood.” 

In fact, research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology concluded that being kind to and helping others can bolster your well-being.

Udall adds, “Communicate with the people in your life. See if they’re struggling or if they’ve worked out ways to cope.” 

2. Prioritize sleep hygiene.

Whether you blame the fact that we have to switch the clocks back an hour in November or that more darkness has you reaching for more caffeine, there are a bevy of reasons your Zs might be compromised as we transition into the cooler months. That’s why you’ll do well to focus on sleep hygiene. 

The best way to do that: Establish regularity, says Udall. “This means having a regular wake-up time, establishing a solid bedtime routine that likely includes calming activities like reading or writing in a journal, and avoiding blue light from cell phones close to bed,” she points out.

3. Eat to support healthy rest.

You can also dig into nutrient-rich whole foods that will support your efforts to get enough sleep, says Diana Savani, a registered dietitian.

Foods like spinach, nuts, soybeans, and milk provide the body with tryptophan, which increases melatonin — aka the sleep hormone — levels in the body, she notes. And foods rich in electrolytes like potassium and magnesium help ensure your body is well hydrated, potentially supporting a better sleep. 

You might also consider oats, grapes, cherries, and tomatoes, which contain melatonin. And if you’re looking for a creative way to incorporate these foods into your daily routine, Savani says trying a bowl of oatmeal topped with bananas and cinnamon for breakfast, enjoying a smoothie with electrolyte-rich coconut water (she likes Vita Coco), frozen cherries, spinach, and vanilla high-protein yogurt, or making a delicious spinach salad topped with your favorite tomatoes, cheese, and some nuts for some healthy crunch. 

4. Switch up your exercise routine.

To be fair, your daily routine can feel intense and stressful no matter the season, but somehow, as the days get shorter, it’s easier to feel like you’re dealing with a case of the doldrums. If that’s the case, Udall recommends doing what you can to change up your schedule — even in a small way. 

“Sometimes getting stuck in a rut can make us feel trapped — particularly when the weather isn’t exactly providing a mood boost,” she explains. “If your routine is wearing you down and leaving you grumpy, make some modifications. Try hitting the gym in the morning instead of the night.”

You might also consider adapting summery workouts for the cooler months, notes Whitney Casares, M.D., the founder and CEO of the Modern Mamas Club, an app that provides daily, real-time activations for busy working moms. 

“Warm weather bike rides may translate into indoor spin classes,” points out Dr. Casares. “Your outdoor yoga practice may work just as well in a cozy space in your home or local studio.” 

5. Make life a bit easier with meal prep.

Because fall can feel like a lower-energy time, it can be tougher to feel motivated to cook nutrient-dense meals, especially in the evening. A form of self-care you can try on a Sunday and thank yourself for on a Wednesday? Meal prepping. 

“Take a few minutes on Sunday to wash and chop some fresh fruits and veggies so you can easily grab and use them throughout the week,” says Savani. “Pre-portion some balanced snacks that provide carbohydrates and protein so you can ‘grab and go’ when you need fuel in a hurry.” 

Dr. Jeff Gladd, M.D., integrative medicine physician and chief medical officer at Fullscript, notes it can be wise to double or even triple a recipe you prep on a Sunday so you have leftovers to enjoy throughout the week without having to cook and clean multiple times. 

He also recommends using a slow cooker or pressure cooker, which requires minimal effort. “This is also a great way to not only make convenient healthy meals, but also take advantage of produce that is in season, when it’s often most tasty,” says Dr. Gladd. “Soups and stews using squashes and root vegetables are a great way to warm up in a healthy way at day’s end.” 

In turn, you’ll feel more prepared for the week ahead and ready to nourish yourself with healthy foods even on nights you just want to flop on the couch and binge the new season of Love Is Blind

6. Download a meditation app. 

When the days are shorter and darker, it can be easier to get stuck in your head and end up spiraling on thoughts that are sad, anxious, or just plain negative. That’s where downloading a meditation app or taking a streaming mindfulness class can come in handy. In fact, research has found even a brief, daily meditation enhances not only mood but your attention, memory, and emotional regulation. 

“A little meditation can do wonders for your mood by clearing your mind and letting you start off fresh,” says Udall. “It can quiet your anxiety, elevate your attitude, and give you the motivation you need to get through this season.”

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