Autumn dip

Diagram of the big dipper constellation

Over the past few years I have noticed that I always have a distinct dip in the autumn. I feel more tired, I feel less happy, and I think less clearly. Sometimes I struggle generally with the stuff I need to do on a day-to-day basis.

It is not deeply serious, for which I am lucky. But I feel a bit worse, and I believe I perform worse.

Because I noticed it seemed to be an annual phenomenon, I now anticipate it. Which now makes me wonder if it’s a self-inflicted placebo effect.

But there probably is something in the fact that this time of year sees a rapid reduction in the amount of sunlight we’re exposed to. By mid-November, I will probably have got used to the winter levels of sunlight, and I’ll begin to feel fine again. But mid-September through all of October always feel like a slog for me.

What probably doesn’t help is that I begin to cycle less as well, with the nights drawing in. Most of my summer rides are on weekday evenings after work. Moreover, windy or icy weather is not conducive to cycling.

As a way of keeping my fitness levels up, I have decided to run more this winter. Alex thinks it makes me feel better. That alone makes it worth pursuing. I’m running 5 to 6 kilometres three times a week.

With the encouragement of friends and colleagues, I am running at lunchtimes with a group at work, taking up parkrun, and even entering races. I’m becoming one of those running people, at risk of posting sweaty selfies at the finish line.

I can’t run every day though, and I’m not sure it always makes me better.

I wonder if this autumn dip is a recent phenomenon, or if I have been affected like this for years without me realising. It’s possible. After all, it took months, if not years, for me to realise that cow’s milk was making me ill every day.

It might be one of the reasons why I always felt like I struggled as a university student. September and October are a pretty vital time of the year. You’re getting to grips with new courses. In first year, you’re getting your head around everything about being a student.

In that scenario, a difficult autumn sets the scene for a difficult year. That was certainly how I felt when I was a student. But if I had known then that I was possibly being affected by the change in season, it may have set my mind more at ease.

As for now, I wade my way through mid-autumn, in the knowledge that things will probably be better in a few weeks’ time.


  1. Welcome to the running community 🙂 Perhaps we will see each other at the Silverstone 10 km race next May? (The organisers are brilliant, and as long as you can manage 10 km in 90 minutes or less on a flat route, they’d be pleased to have you join in).

  2. Alianora, thanks as always for the comment!

    I had no idea there was a Silverstone 10k race. I always think it would be really cool to run round F1 circuits as many in the F1 circuits do. I’m very tempted to enter. I’ll keep you posted!

  3. Didn’t expect to be posting another comment, as I visit only infrequently but this one resonated with me. For me, I tend to notice that August-October are productive and energetic, but it’s November when the blues kick in, or things start happening. I also do tend to see this month as a “bellwether” for the year ahead. Sometimes issues that arise in November (even something like sleeping badly) stick around (albeit on and off) until well into the following spring (though never during my university days in my experience). It’s rarely dreadful, and I have to all intents and purposes been able to live a perfectly normal life – in that sense I am fortunate – but there is enough of an impact for me to personally notice it now.

    Likewise, I only recognised this recently (4-5 years ago) but, thinking back, it probably goes back much longer and I just hadn’t really noticed, partly because it hadn’t affected me so overtly (it’s not as though every November has been unrelenting misery!).

    Reasons? I do think the clocks going back and the nights getting longer are contributory factors; less natural light! Also, I wonder if there is an “internal body clock” element; August is usually still the summer break in England, and September and October the start of a new year, though there is maybe a cycle of mental and physical replenishment followed by applying that energy to a new term, which repeats over time even though I’m no longer in academia. November then gets dark and accumulated tiredness plus the grim reality of the term sets in.

    Finally, and I appreciate this is a grossly unfashionable view, I wonder if this is partly astrological. This thinking was triggered by one particularly low winter (though, again, it could have been worse!) where my material circumstances had not changed one iota but my behaviour and response to things changed quite a bit. It made me think that this was not at all rational and that, somewhere out there, things were happening and balances of probability were tilting to influence my change in mood.

    Anyway, essay over. Hope some of this is helpful, or thought-provoking, and all the best with the challenges you face! Thanks for the tip on physical fitness; my knee’s been playing up so not sure it’s an option for me right now but the benefits of it are well documented.

  4. Thanks for the comment Rishi. I do wonder if there is something about a natural cycle that is the reason why school terms start in the autumn and not, say, after Christmas. Or perhaps it’s just because academics have always liked to have the summer off! 🙂

  5. Thanks Duncan. It’s a good point. If anything, the pre-industrial revolution agrarian economies probably hard to work hardest over the summer to plant, develop and harvest crops (I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent cycle for livestock or whether that would be all year round).

    Maybe that’s why the school term started after that period though, or towards the end of it – the kids (and academics?) were needed on the farms during the summer, so the academic year must work around that!

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