If Fall is Not Your Favorite Season You May Be Suffering From “Autumn Anxiety”
Yes, this is a real thing my friend. I’m so relieved have recently discovered the name for it because I’ve experienced autumn anxiety and a mild depression every fall since I was a small child.
While everyone else is raving about the leaves changing colors and looking forward to getting cozy in a sweater, I feel a mild to moderate sense of dread enveloping me that I can’t quite explain.
Yes, I enjoy pumpkin spice lattes, actually, I love them. The leaves are beautiful, I totally agree. My birthday is in September so that’s fun and I really have nothing against sweaters.
I still don’t look forward to Fall and autumn anxiety + depression is why. Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, we might be Autumn Anxiety buddies.
So, what is it?! What’s ‘Autumn Anxiety’? And where does it come from?
The term was coined by Welsh therapist Ginny Scully in 2005 when she noticed that her clients were experiencing a very similar cluster of symptoms (as was Ginny Scully herself) at the turn of the season from summer to fall.
Autumn anxiety is feeling anxious or dreading the change that happens in autumn every year. This is what you might experience:
- Feeling like you’re in a state of flux
- Anticipatory anxiety about the activities and transitions over the coming 3-4 months
- Increased worry and fear
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Digestive issues
Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and see your health care provider if you are worried about your symptoms.
Where does this come from? Why is it happening in Autumn?
Two reasons: the change in the amount of sun we get in the northern hemisphere + our cultural activity shifts
Reason One: Decreased sun in the northern hemisphere
We all know that Fall means shorter days, dropping temperatures, and a transition into winter. This has to do with our seasonal rotation around the sun and getting less sunlight in the northern hemisphere in Fall and Winter.
Our bodies can respond to these things with anxiety and depression-like symptoms. The reason is that less sunlight means less vitamin D, less time outside walking or in nature, and less mood boosting brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
Some people are especially sensitive to these changes in the environment and inside their own bodies that Autumn Anxiety can pack a special punch – we’re called Empaths and Highly Sensitive People.
Empaths and Highly Sensitives have highly tuned brains and nervous systems that are like the finest instruments in a weather station. We can tell you exactly which way the wind is blowing and how many miles an hour it’s going. (If you’re not sure if you’re Highly Sensitive take the quiz here)
There’s nothing wrong with being an Empath, Highly Sensitive, or dealing with Autumn Anxiety; it’s simply good to have a name for it so you can treat yourself with dignity and care going forward.
Here are some ideas for dealing with Autumn Anxiety that boost serotonin and dopamine:
- Use a ‘happy light’
- Continue to get outside as much as you can
- Ask for a massage
- making sure you eat enough protein (particularly sources of tryptophan like turkey and salmon)
*before supplementing your diet or exercising always check with your doctor first
Reason Two: Fall Cultural Activity Shifts
Summer is over and the unstructured sunny days have become a thing of the past. I mourn the loss of summer every year, for real. I thrive on sunshine and freedom so when I have to say goodbye, I’m a bit morose.
Fall can feel like it comes in with a vengeance. It’s a time when structure hits us all at once and from many angles in our society. This can be a bit much especially for those who are Empaths and Highly Sensitive People like me. We prefer to inch into change rather than the onslaught of change that Fall brings with it.
What do I mean by structure hitting us all at once?
Well, school starts in the fall for one and school means getting to bed early and getting up early. As a parent it also means managing my children’s transition back to school as well as my own schedule adjustment which added to the mix. Plus, having three kids with supplies to buy, new teachers to meet, all those papers to sign, and it was a bear.
This year going back to school has been a huge deal for families. There has been lots of confusion about what’s best, what each school district is offering, and getting everyone prepared. Making decisions when you’re also dealing with Autumn Anxiety can add fuel to the stress flames. If you experienced that a couple of weeks ago, give yourself a big hug from me. You are also now dealing with whatever school situation your children are in and for some folks it’s very stressful right now.
Hang in there mama and use the strategies I’m sharing here to support yourself through this time. I’m using them too, you’re not alone. Let’s do it together.
Additionally, business tends to get back into a more structured cadence in September/October as well. As a small business owner, I am also shifting my schedule to meet my clients at new times and offering different kinds of programs. This isn’t a bad thing, just a shift.
As the type of person who likes a plan, in the fall I begin to sketch out my holiday general plan. What are we doing for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas?
At this time of year, we tend to get ‘heads down’ into tasks on our computers. Especially during the pandemic, we find ourselves being busy with our technology trying to get everything done.
Ideas for dealing with Autumn Anxiety that reduces emotional overwhelm and mental stress:
- Use meditation and prayer on a daily basis
- Plan with your kids and their other parent (if possible) how to manage school routines in as low stress away as possible
- Outline your holiday plan but tackle the specifics one holiday at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Or, maybe this year, do really low-stress holidays since it’s COVID and all.
- Celebrate small victories – you’ll get a hit of feel-good brain chemicals when you do
- Don’t volunteer with charitable organizations or with your kids’ school if you’re dealing with Autumn Anxiety; wait until winter or spring
- Plan some digital detox time; be away from your phone and your computer even if it’s only an hour on Sunday
Use your situation to imagine what would feel really amazing and go do that for yourself! It’s not indulgent, it’s nurturing your nervous system and caring for your Autumn Anxiety.
When we add it up I see how the shift in the environment and the shift in the schedules and activity patterns make for a perfect storm, don’t they? Autumn anxiety makes so much sense!
Do you think you suffer from Autumn Anxiety? What tips have you found most useful?
Entrepreneur | Life Coach
Laurie Carlson is a life coach for Empaths and Highly Sensitive women who are tired of living in overwhelm and exhaustion - they are ready to have a vivacious life from their strengths. Laurie brings her over 30 years of experience as a Psychiatric Nurse, Social Worker, and corporate training Project Manager to her work as a coach. She has a Bachelor's degree in Counseling and Social Work, a Master's degree in Organizational Development and Leadership, and is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach.
Laurie is an Emotional and Intuitive Empath and Highly Sensitive Person herself so she has a keen awareness of what the Sensitive life is like. She's been coaching for seven years and the sole focus of her practice is helping Empaths and HSPs find a path to fulfilled living. Laurie is also a mom to four Highly Sensitive almost grown kids which is the adventure of a lifetime. When she's not working, she likes to try any recipe that has lemon as the main ingredient, reads historical fiction and self-help books, and is learning all she can about her Danish ancestors' tradition of hygge (or 'coziness').
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