Do your stress and anxiety levels increase as summer slips into fall and the days get shorter and darker? Many people don’t realize how common this is, and many don’t associate it with the change in weather. The fact is, autumn anxiety is a real thing and it’s far more common than you may realize.
What is Autumn Anxiety?
Anxiety can be triggered by several different factors, and this can happen at any time of the year. Autumn anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that starts around the fall season.
Ginny Scully, a therapist in Wales named the phenomenon ‘Autumn Anxiety’, after seeing numerous patients who experienced heightened anxiety symptoms starting around the end of summer through to the beginning of fall.
Autumn Anxiety is closely linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), however, it is not an officially diagnosable condition like SAD or clinical depression. With autumn anxiety, the symptoms are more about anxiety and less about depression.
Here are some things to understand about autumn anxiety.
What Causes Autumn Anxiety
While there is no single cause of seasonal anxiety, experts believe there are a few different possibilities.
Most experts suggest it is most likely associated with the reduced sunlight that occurs when the weather changes in the fall. Insufficient exposure to sunlight affects our circadian rhythm, the body’s internal biological clock that governs hormone production and brain wave activity. This can cause different degrees of autumn anxiety.
Some experts say it could also be from the drastic changes in our routine during summer and fall. Many of us are not really prepared for this sudden change.
This is a complex condition with many variables.
Common Signs That You May Be Experiencing Autumn Anxiety
It helps to recognize the signs that may suggest you are experiencing seasonal anxiety. The earlier you recognize the symptoms, the sooner you can take steps to manage it or lower the intensity of the symptoms.
Autumn anxiety generally manifests as a combination of physical and emotional changes that may come on suddenly or start appearing gradually towards the end of summer and the beginning of fall.
These are some of the symptoms to look out for:
- Feeling lethargic and listless
- Losing interest in your favorite activities
- Struggling to stay focused and concentrate
- Becoming moody and irritable for no reason at all
- Having an overwhelming sense of dread
- Either sleeping too much or too little
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling agitated for no apparent reason
As you can see, the symptoms of autumn anxiety can be wide ranging. Many people do not recognize it for what it is. Instead, they think they may just be imagining it and ignore it. This doesn’t help. The symptoms won’t disappear when you ignore them. They will just keep building up and getting worse.
Autumn anxiety is made worse when family members also dismiss your feelings and tell you to ‘get some rest and you’ll be okay’. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way and you won’t feel okay unless you proactively do something about it.
What You Can Do to Manage Fall Anxiety
Spend More Time Outdoors In the Sun
It’s the cold darker days of fall that trigger the symptoms. As the days get shorter and darker, the symptoms usually start to get worse. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait till you feel weighed down by your extreme anxiety. If you recognize that this is something that happens to you every year, being proactive is the best way to head off the anxiety at the start.
During the early days when summer is just about getting into fall, the days may be getting shorter but the sun still shines for at least a few hours every day. Take full advantage of these hours of sunshine. Don’t put it on the backburner with the excuse that you have a hectic schedule juggling. Ignoring it now will only make it worse as the season progressive and the days get darker and colder. Schedule in your sunshine time, even if it is just for a few minutes every day.
If lack of exposure to the sun is the main cause of autumn anxiety, it stands to reason that getting more sunlight will help reduce the symptoms.
Use Light Therapy to Get Your Daily Dose of Light
If you live in a cold climate with mostly rainy days during fall, light therapy can help. Light therapy involves using an alternate source of light to make up for the lack of sunshine. Exposure to regular household bulbs doesn’t work. What you need is exposure to a Light Therapy Lamp.
Light therapy lamps are also known as phototherapy boxes or light lamps. These are a special type of lamp that emits light at the same intensity as natural outdoor light.
Exposure to this light increases serotonin production and regulates the circadian rhythm. This helps lift your mood and lower symptoms of autumn anxiety.
If you’ve never used a light therapy lamp before, this article will help- Light Therapy For SAD – Using The Power Of Light To Beat The Winter Blues. The causes and symptoms of Autumn Anxiety are similar to those of SAD. Light therapy works the same way to reduce anxiety symptoms.
I’ve also done some research and shortlisted the Best Light Therapy Lamps For SAD.
The NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp is one of the top-rated on Amazon. Read my in-depth review of the NatureBright SunTouch Lamp.
Although not as effective as light therapy lamps, using a Himalayan Salt Lamp can also help to reduce Autumn Anxiety. Read more about 10 Reasons to Keep a Himalayan Salt Lamp in Your Home and the Benefits of Using a Himalayan Salt Lamp.
Seek Comfort with a Hygge Practice
Hygge is an interesting Danish tradition that encourages you to create a cozy, comfortable environment in your home on cold fall days. It helps you achieve a sense of peace and tranquility through activities that make you feel warm and comfortable, no matter how drab, dark and grey the season.
You’ll find plenty of ideas here for Hygge Activities To Create That Cozy Fall Feeling.
Keep a Journal
Why journal for anxiety? The act of writing in a journal can be very therapeutic and can do wonders for lowering your anxiety levels.
For a start, it helps get those anxious thoughts and fears out of your head. Our anxiety tends to get worse when we focus too much on what we are afraid of. The act of putting pen to paper and writing down what you’re worried about, and gives words to your fears and anxiety. This gets the fears out of your head and can also make it seem much less worse than you think.
Journaling also helps you find more clarity. This can be particularly helpful when your anxiety is from specific situations that have been frustrating you. Maybe this fall season, you are trying to make a big decision, and are feeling anxious over your inability to know the right path to take. Writing about it can help you get the clarity you need.
Focusing on journaling also works to distract your mind when you are going through a panic attack or having a particularly bad anxiety day.
Aromatherapy is very effective for alleviating anxiety and promoting calm. The important thing is to know which essential oils to use.
The best scents for fall are warm and comforting – think nutmeg, clove, cardamom, eucalyptus, and sweet orange. You can mix these basic fall essential oils in different combinations to create a variety of fabulous fall scents.
Read more about Fabulous Fall Essential Oils & Blends and How to Use Them.
Do Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises are often recommended for different forms of anxiety and can help with fall anxiety as well.
When you recognize your anxiety getting worse, find a quiet place where you can sit in peace and quiet for at least a few minutes. There are different types of breathing exercises that you can perform. The easiest is to inhale through your nose while slowly counting to five, then exhale through your nose again counting to five.
There is a whole science behind what happens when you breathe slowly while focusing on each breath. In short, focusing on your breathing while counting can be very calming.
Some people prefer to use visualization instead of counting during breathing exercises. That works too. Experiment to see which method works best for you.
Focus on Something You Look Forward To
Another way to reverse your negative thoughts and make them positive is to think of good things in your life right now. If you are struggling with fall anxiety, instead of focusing on things that can go wrong, try staying focused on things you are looking forward to.
Maybe you are happy to have a little more time during the day with your kids back in school, you love the warm fall décor that comes out this time of year, or you are one step closer to your favorite holiday: Christmas. Maybe start planning your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner early. It will give you something to look forward to and also eliminate the stress that typically comes from last-minute planning.
Spending some time making gifts for family and friends is a fantastic way to reduce anxiety. Creative activities have proven to be very effective for releasing stress and anxiety and promoting calm and making gifts can feel immensely satisfying too. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, there are plenty of gift-giving occasions coming up over the next few months. You’ll find some interesting and very easy DIY Fall-Scented Gift Ideas here.
Recognize & Get a Handle On Irrational Thoughts
Irrational thoughts are ones that are based more on your fears and worries, and less on what could (or has) realistically happened.
For example, if you keep getting panic attacks when thinking about your kids going off to school for the fall season, where are those negative thoughts coming from? Are you really concerned something is going to happen to them or is your anxiety creating something irrational?
Everyone has these types of thoughts now and then, but people with anxiety tend to really focus on them, and often turn them into something they’re not.
To eliminate these irrational thoughts, it helps to write down everything that is giving you anxiety, highlighting all the negative thoughts, then deciding whether it is a rational thought or not.
Embrace Fall, Instead of Dreading It
To embrace fall, add in some activities each day that remind you of the things you LOVE about the season. This might mean some spiced chai tea in the morning, going apple picking over the weekend with your kids, or writing in a fall-themed journal every day.
Add in Healthy Habits to Your Daily Routine
Incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine can be very effective for lowering anxiety. Don’t be too ambitious and try to make too many changes. If you can’t commit to it and give up halfway, you’ll only end up feeling defeated.
Think small steps. Here are some easy things you can do:
- Do a few minutes of gentle exercise each day. Exercise doesn’t have to feel like punishment! It is great for your heart health, muscles, and yes, your mental health. Release those endorphins and reduce anxiety just by adding a small amount of exercise to your day.
- Reduce your caffeine consumption. Caffeine is a stimulant and can make your anxiety worse, and even lead to panic attacks. If you struggle with anxiety, try to reduce your caffeine intake and switch over to herbal tea instead. A cup of herbal tea can be warm and comforting without the anxiety-inducing caffeine. Check out these delicious teas for any time of the year.
- Watch your diet. A poor diet with junk food can exacerbate your anxiety. Hearty soups and stews flavored with herbs are a healthier alternative and they are more satisfying too.
Most important of all, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if the symptoms persist, no matter what you do.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before using any natural medication or if you experience any unusual symptoms. See Full Disclaimer here.