Updated: Aug 30, 2022
Summer flew by once again, and fall is quickly approaching. The nights are growing just a little colder, and the back-to-school season is almost here.
With fall around the corner, we're already seeing social media posts and jokes about pumpkin-spice-everything and pulling sweaters out of summer storage. But while some people love fall, the season brings additional worry and anxiety for others.
Can anxiety be seasonal?
Yes, anxiety can be seasonal. Mayo Clinic shares that Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) "is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year." For many people who experience SAD, their anxiety symptoms start in the fall, increase over the winter, and start to improve in the spring.
If you experience seasonal anxiety, you may not know why you feel more anxious than usual. However, some people feel more anxious in the fall because of things like:
The start of a new school year (students may be anxious about new classes, and parents may be feeling anxious about sending their children to school)
Stress over the upcoming holidays (this can be especially true if it is the first holidays after a loss)
Political tension from the upcoming elections
Dread of winter arriving, including shorter daylight hours, cold weather, and feeling closed in
Not having accomplished goals and feeling like there isn't enough time
Tips for managing and overcoming autumn anxiety or seasonal depression
1. Be intentional about light exposure
Living in the north, we experience a bigger swing in the hours of daylight we get to enjoy throughout the changing seasons. But the daylight hours grow shorter throughout the fall, which may cause you to feel more anxious if you dread the darkness of winter.
Be intentional throughout fall about getting outside, especially in the morning, when the sun is shining. On cloudy days or when it starts to stay dark longer, you can use a light therapy box to help. The right exposure to light during the day can also help improve your ability to sleep well at night, which is also important for overcoming anxiety.
2. Look for the source of your worry and anxiety
If you can pinpoint some of the specific things you're feeling anxious about, it allows you to choose specific actions that can address them. For example, if you're worried about your child starting school for the first time, you can do things like stay educated on information and updates from the school system, form a parent group that meets after school drop-off, and work on addressing negative, anxious thoughts that aren't based on reality.
While there are many general tips that can help with anxiety, the more you understand why you're feeling anxious, the easier it will be to address the root of it. If you're struggling to determine why you're feeling anxious, it can help to speak with a licensed therapist.
3. Plan activities you can look forward to
If you are someone who thrives on all the activities of summer, the idea of putting away the outdoor furniture and staying indoors as winter approaches may leave you feeling anxious. As the seasons change, it can help to plan activities to look forward to throughout fall, winter, and early spring.
It's easy to think that you will "get to it eventually," but it's also easy to keep putting it off and fall into the routine of doing nothing outside of what life requires of you throughout the colder months. Look for ways to continue participating in activities you enjoy and look forward to. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
Schedule a tailgate party with friends
Plan a day to hike, visit an apple orchard or find pumpkins
Look for local events and buy a ticket now, so you feel committed when the time comes
Join a gym so you can exercise regardless of the weather
Book a vacation to a tropical destination
Start a book club that meets in person each week
Look for ways to build fun into your schedule, so you have things to look forward to as the seasons change.
4. Build up your self-care routine
A self-care routine can play an important role in helping you feel your best regardless of what season we are in. Self-care activities include things like:
Developing a healthy sleep routine
Eating a balanced, nutritious diet
Engaging in regular exercise or physical activity
Spending time with loved ones or friends
Doing a hobby you enjoy
If your daily routine is lacking self-care activities, it may be easiest for you to start small while building this habit in your life. Choose one thing to focus on. Then, when that activity has become more of a habit in your life, you can focus on adding in another one. Choose something you enjoy, and that helps you feel rested, recharged, and at your best.
5. Start a new hobby or pick up an old one
Choose a hobby you enjoy or you think you might enjoy and get started. Spending time doing something you enjoy can do wonders for relieving anxiety. As you focus on the activity, it can help you shift your mind away from anxious thoughts. This can be true of all different activities, including sports, music, crafting, and baking.
If you are an extrovert and enjoy spending a lot of time with others, you may benefit from finding a hobby that you can share with others. Doing this will create more time in your schedule with others, which can help you build healthy relationships with friends and spend time doing something you enjoy. This incorporates multiple layers of self-care at once.
As your skill improves within your hobby, you may also experience the added benefit of improved self-confidence. This can help you in all areas of life.
6. Be mindful of what you watch and read
Social media usage has grown over the years, which is likely not surprising as you read this. This year, the average time spent on social media worldwide is 147 minutes daily. The average person spends an average of two hours a day scrolling social media. And while social media isn't necessarily bad, time spent on the platforms can negatively impact people.
Social media usage has been connected with worsened sleep habits, low self-esteem, and increased anxiety and depression. While social media isn't necessarily bad, it's important to pay attention to how it impacts you personally. If you find that social media is consuming your time or leaving you feeling worse, reduce or eliminate the time you spend on the different platforms. Replace this time with a fulfilling activity.
News headlines can also have a negative impact on our anxiety. It's even worse this year with the upcoming mid-term elections and the oncoming tension from the past several years. If you find yourself feeling stressed and anxious after watching the news or reading the headlines, limit your exposure to it.
It can also help to be intentional about when you spend time doing things that may leave you more anxious. Don't start your day on social media or by checking the news. Choose a self-care activity to start your day. And avoid these same activities when you are getting close to ending your day. Instead, choose to do something that helps you relax and unwind from the day.
7. Create a plan for the holidays
If the holidays are a stressful time for you, start working now to create a plan you feel good about. This may mean setting a strict budget for your spending. It may mean limiting time with certain family members. Or, it may mean booking an international vacation and avoiding the holidays completely.
Think about what parts of the holidays feel the most stressful to you, and look for what you can do to be proactive in addressing it this year. For example, if your December schedule leaves you exhausted, set boundaries in your calendar right now. Block off dates that you will not schedule events or appointments, and then as people start trying to get on your schedule, you'll be able to say you already have an appointment. They don't even need to know it's just time dedicated to relaxing at home if that's what you choose to do with it.
8. Celebrate successes
Focusing on the successes in our days—even the small ones—can help us feel better about our lives in general. However, this can be easier said than done. It's easy to spot the success others are having while feeling like we aren't having any of our own. It's also easy to set the bar too high and then constantly feel like we're not accomplishing anything.
It can be helpful to keep a list of daily successes. Each day, try to add three new things to the list that you accomplished or succeeded at for the day. If you struggle to come up with something to add to your list, remember to keep it simple. You can start with things like making your bed, picking up a pizza to feed your kids, or making it to work on time.
Don't feel successes must be major events or accomplishments to count. As you start to focus on the success and positive things in your life, it can help shift your mind away from anxiety.
9. Schedule a mental health day off of work
Once Labor Day passes, there isn't much to look forward to for days off until Thanksgiving rolls around at the end of November. If the thought of this long stretch bothers you, pre-schedule a mental health day off of work. Take a day to spend doing activities that help you rest and recharge. Knowing you have this day to look forward to can also be the motivation to help you power through the days leading up to it.
10. Talk to a therapist
There are many different reasons why people struggle with anxiety. While there are many things that you can do to help manage and overcome your symptoms, it can be helpful to speak with an experienced therapist or counselor about your specific situation.
Talking to a therapist for anxiety can help you get to the root cause of why you're struggling and help you learn effective strategies for overcoming anxiety symptoms. At The NEST Clinic, you are also able to work with a Certified Nurse Practitioner for medication management if necessary.
Focus on the present day
While we know fall and winter will be here before we know it, we encourage you to spend time living in the present moment. If you dread the changing of seasons, be intentional about being present in the moment and enjoying each day. Shifting your focus like this can help you enjoy today with less anxiety about the coming fall and winter.
If you're struggling with anxiety or feel that it's becoming more of a challenge for you, please reach out to us today to connect with a therapist who is right for you. If you have struggled with autumn anxiety or depression in the fall and winter months in the past, we encourage you to be proactive in seeking help this year. You don't have to wait until you feel bad to reach out for help. Contact us today.