Are you a Fall lover? The time when summer comes to a close, there’s a chill in the air and the leaves start falling. Each day is shorter and darker and winter is just around the corner.
With these changes, it’s hard to not feel some effect mentally or physically. In fact, an astounding 10 million Americans are affected by Seasonal affective Disorder (SAD) each year, with another 10-20 percent having mild SAD.
It’s easy to see how autumn could throw off a person mentally, with the start of school years and change in weather patterns pushing you indoors. So how can you prepare for and overcome autumn anxiety?
The term “autumn anxiety” was coined by Welsch therapist, Gillian Scully. After noticing a trend in anticipation, overwhelm and stress in clients at the end of summer and beginning of fall, she named a new condition: Autumn Anxiety.
"This is much more than a coincidence and beyond the usual feelings that people have when the seasons change, or when days are drawing in. As many as 15 clients I have treated in two weeks have shared the same anxieties”
The main symptom of Autumn anxiety is the feelings of anxiety and anticipation. The caveat here is there is no obvious reason for the anxiety or depression.
Thankfully by knowing what’s causing your anxiety, you have a better chance of relieving it!
The cause of any type of anxiety is your brain telling you there is a perceived threat. This is a great function of the brain until it’s perceiving wrong and you’re feeling anxious for no reason. This can happen when the seasons change, as the brain feels a shift in so many things at once from weather to schedule and activity.
Some of the specific changes that come along with fall to set off your brains anxiety alarm are the following:
Wither autumn comes colder temps and less sunlight. We know mental health is positively impacted by sunlight and outdoor activity. So when the sun isn’t around and the temperatures drop with cloudy skies and dark days, mental health will no doubt feel the effects. One major reason for this is vitamin d deficiency, which is caused by not enough sunlight and can lead to anxiety or depression.
The abrupt change from laid back summer vibes to fall changes is enough to shake you up. Fall is a common time for the beginning of new things like a new job, a new class schedule, or a new school. Even if you’re excited to strut the halls in your new back to school clothes, anticipation and stress can kick in.
Exercise is a huge component of mental health. With a new season and colder weather, it’s not as easy to jump on a bike or walk the dog.
Now that we understand what this condition is, and what causes it, we can tackle the ways to treat it!
As mentioned, exercise in the colder months isn’t ideal and it takes a lot of willpower to peel yourself off the couch. With that said, it is so important to keep with an exercise regimen. Keep in mind, you don’t need to do a crazy workout! A short walk or another workout that gets your heart pumping will do the trick.
Mindfulness is the act of listening to your brain and body and being in the moment. Anxiety is your brain telling you to brace for something scary. By checking in with yourself and dedicating time to breathing and meditating, you can ground yourself and relieve the false alarm of anxiety. If you’re not sure how to get started, consider a guided meditation.
Food is another crucial aspect of good mental health. You are what you eat! When fall hits, it ushers in the sugar and carb-filled holiday seasons. Enjoy yourself, but be mindful of the impact your choices can have on your mental health!
You don’t have to do this alone. Reaching out might look like sitting down with a trusted friend or family member, investing time into a mental health app, or seeking out a therapist. There’s no wrong answer here, and we encourage you to talk to someone about your anxiety.
While “Autumn Anxiety” is a relatively new condition (2005), it is a real phenomenon, similar to SAD that many people struggle with. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can teat it. Keep in mind the signs and reasons for this anxiety so you can identify it in yourself and others.