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Consumer and lifestyle journalist.
The holidays are over, your suntan is fading and the evenings are drawing in. But resist the temptation to hibernate, and beat the autumn blues with an action plan to keep your spirits up – without breaking the bank.
Dates for the diary
Give yourself something to look forward to: if you can't stretch to an exotic winter holiday or ski trip, try a short-haul city break. Look out for deals – travelling on budget airlines, via Eurostar or midweek can really help to reduce costs.
Make the time for fun closer to home too – check your local listings for gigs, theatre, cinema, dance or comedy events. Buy tickets (and book babysitting) in advance – you'll be more likely to drag yourself away from the sofa.
Now's also a good time to secure a table at that new restaurant you've been intending to check out – especially if you live in a town which has been overrun by tourists all summer.
Check out family events too – take a look at Time Out's list of “13 things to do in London before you're 13”; see what exhibitions are running at museums nearby; book early for that local Christmas show.Travelling on budget airlines, via Eurostar or midweek can really help reduce costs
Plan a party
Find an occasion to gather friends and family for a general social pick-me-up. Halloween and Bonfire Night are obvious choices; fancy dress and favourite party games such as apple bobbing, along with a few fireworks and sparklers, will keep partygoers of all ages happy.
It's also the season for Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, and for the Chinese/Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Festival, which celebrates the full moon closest to the autumn equinox – not to mention traditional British Harvest Festival suppers. Celebrate and share your heritage and culture, whatever your roots, or learn more about another with your friends, neighbours and local community.Apple-bobbing, along with a few fireworks and sparklers, will keep party goers of all ages happy
Set aside half an hour a day for some gentle stretching and relaxation of body and mind
Get some exercise
It's accepted that exercise can boost mood and in some studies performs as well as an anti-depressant to counter mild depression. You could join your local authority gym, dust off your exercise bike, enrol in a yoga or Pilates class, or buy a good instruction manual and set aside half an hour a day for some gentle stretching and relaxation of body and mind. Hop on your bike if the weather isn't too terrible – and if you have a dog, he will love you even more if you take him for regular muddy walks!
Pick a project
Try a little self-improvement. Whether you choose a Spanish evening class, life-drawing, creative writing, or a course with potential to enhance your career prospects, it's good to give yourself an intellectual challenge. Many universities and further education colleges run community learning or open courses which do not require relevant prior qualifications.
Over half of the UK population is involved in amateur arts and craft, including music, literature, drama and dance, according to The Voluntary Arts Network, a charity which promotes and supports active participation in cultural activities. Set aside some time to indulge your artistic inclinations, be they poetry, piano-playing or patchwork.Many universities and further education colleges run community learning or open courses which do not require relevant prior qualifications
Ever regretted giving up those violin lessons? It's never too late to play for pleasure and continue to improve your musical abilities. Get back into practising, brush up your technique, learn some music theory – or take up a new instrument altogether. Stay in over the winter with some practice scales or instructional YouTube videos, and you could really get somewhere by springtime.
Music is also a great social activity. Consider joining a community choir, samba-drumming troupe or ukulele ensemble, go bell-ringing or have a strum at a folk club, whatever takes your fancy – and don't worry, you don't need to have philharmonic potential to get involved and have fun. “Making music with other people can have an enormous influence on an individual's physical health and on mental, emotional and social wellbeing,” according to the charity Making Music.Get back into practising, brush up on your technique, learn some music theory – or take up a new instrument altogether
Consider brightening up your home in time for winter – take some interior design tips from the Scandinavians. “Because of the very long, dark winters in Sweden, when it gets dark at about two in the afternoon, it's all about getting as much light and space into your home as possible” says Alex Crown, a Brighton-based vintage interiors specialist, who sources pieces to commission.
Alex, who spent her childhood near Stockholm and regularly returns to visit her Swedish family, says: “The Scandinavians create airy interiors, with a lot of white to reflect the light, and lots of natural, rustic materials and textures to bring a sense of the outdoors indoors; water is a big influence, with tonal colours and nautical themes. Interiors are not fussy or over-styled, but Swedes love cushions and throws to create a warm atmosphere, and soft candlelight or natural, low-level lighting with lots of little table-lamps instead of harsh overhead lights”.
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Here are a few low-cost activity ideas for autumn:>
Take the train: Look for off-peak fares, group saver tickets and other special or advance offers, and pick an unusual destination for a day trip.>
Have time to spare? Volunteering England gives details of how to get involved with everything from animal welfare and woodland conservation to sports coaching.>
Free fun for children: Don't forget that kicking through a pile of autumn leaves is free; so is a good muddy walk followed by hot chocolate by the fire. And remember to invest in a couple of low-cost toboggans now for when the snow comes.>
Check out local events: Your local council website should have information on one-off events such as talks, lectures, book-readings and exhibition openings at the museums, galleries, libraries and cultural centres, as well as carnivals, parades, street parties and other public events. Befriend your favourite institution on Facebook or follow it on Twitter to get advance notice.>>
Get out and about: River banks, woods, the seaside and urban parks can be lovely in autumn. An Ordnance Survey map is a great investment.
Up to a third of people may suffer from some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), according to mental health charity Mind. SAD is thought to be related to lower light levels in autumn and winter, which can disrupt or suppress production of the hormones serotonin and melatonin and upset natural body clocks; it can lead to symptoms including a lack of energy, sleep disorders, apathy, anxiety, difficulties with socialising and concentration, a craving for carbohydrates, and mood changes, as well as more severe depression or behavioural problems.
Mind recommends treatment supervised by a GP or specialist SAD clinic, with bright light therapy (phototherapy) regarded as the most effective solution. It also gives some tips for self-treatment of milder symptoms, including:
Making the most of natural light and getting outdoors in daylight as much as possible.>
Avoiding stressful situations and making extra efforts to relax.>
Exercising regularly, and eating a healthy and balanced diet.Up to a third of people may suffer from some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), according to mental health charity Mind
tips to weather
Using the longer evenings to sort out your finances is good use of your time – and you'll feel more prepared as the high costs of Christmas approach.>
Analyse your outgoings and sit down with your bank statements. Are you paying for satellite TV you rarely watch? Do you ever use that gym membership? If you use so-called ”cash-back' or discount websites, check whether you're actually saving money or buying things you would not have otherwise purchased.>
Make your money more efficient. Could you switch to a better mortgage rate or higher-interest savings account? Invest more in your pension plan or ISA?>
As a priority, pay off any extra debt you've accrued over the summer, such as credit card bills from your holiday.>
Are you paying too much for mobile phone and broadband contracts, car breakdown cover or home insurance, or on an uncompetitive electricity tariff? Whenever a policy or service contract comes up for renewal, shop around or use comparison websites to find the best deals.>
Check that you are on the correct tax code and that you are effectively using any personal allowances; refer to HMRC.gov.uk. If you are required to fill in a tax return for 2012-13, remember the deadline for paper submissions is 31 October, and for online returns it's 31 January 2014.
There is a wealth of resources for free or low-cost autumn activities:
Stay healthy as the light fades this autumn:
The views expressed here are solely those of the author,
and do not necessarily reflect the views of M&S Bank.
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