If you ever feel your mood change when you say goodbye to the warmer months, you know that the seasons can have a big impact on your emotional state. There’s been a lot of research on the “winter blues” — and the more serious seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — that affect people during the most friggid, darkest time of the year. But the truth is, autumn can be peak “anxiety season” for many.
The root of fall anxiety is different for everyone. For some, it comes down to spending less time outside — research has shown that regular doses of nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, and boost feelings of happiness and well-being. For others, there’s no way to deny that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and if seeing family tends to be a source of stress, the approaching holidays may trigger tension. Then there’s work, which ramps up for a lot of people during the homestretch of the year — and racing to meet their goals before the end of the quarter feels like a lot.
Ultimately, “the happiest people understand that there is a natural ebb and flow to emotional states,” says Timothy Bono, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis. But that doesn’t mean you can’t look for coping strategies to deal with the anxiety you feel in autumn. Here, a few tips to try:
Build self-care into your schedule
If the busy nature of these fall months is making it that much harder to make time for the activities that typically de-stress you, it’s time to take Microsteps to prioritize them again. For instance, if working out keeps you sane and you don’t have time for your usual hour-long workout, find a hack. Maybe you can combine a workout with catch-up time with a friend or your partner — such as taking a 30-minute power walk after work. When you’re time-strapped, it’s important to identify what helps you relieve anxiety, and build it into your daily routine so you’re less likely to skip it.
Scroll with caution
Researchers have found that constant screen use can impact our mental health and make us feel anxious. And scrolling through the influx of posts featuring everyone’s seemingly joyful apple-picking adventures/Halloween outings/foliage-filled engagement photos/etc. might be a recipe for feeling worse than you already do. “Pay attention to how much time you are spending online, and how you feel right after,” suggests Bono. “You may want to modify how you are using it.”
Try taking a “microcation”
Many treat summer as the time for planned getaways and long vacations, so it can be somewhat of a bummer when the fall rolls around and you don’t have a trip to look forward to. The truth is, a lot of us are scared to utilize our vacation days, and research shows the hesitancy to use them is holding us back from taking the necessary time to recharge during the year. Instead of waiting until next summer for another trip, try a “microcation” — a quick trip that takes less planning and prep. Data suggests these shorter trips can allow you to destress in less time, and help you return to work feeling recharged.
Don’t pretend everything is OK
If you’re experiencing autumn anxiety, it’s important to acknowledge what’s going on inside, and seek help when you need it — whether from a loved one, a best friend, or a professional. “Part of psychological health involves understanding that negative emotions like sadness and anxiety are simply part of the human experience,” Bono says. “Trying to undo or not feel those emotions when they come up will often backfire and make us feel them even more intensely.” Instead of hiding your emotions, remind yourself that telling someone about them can only help — even if you’re hesitant to do so.