The arrival of the fall season brings dreams of pumpkin spice lattes, autumn-inspired date ideas, and the upcoming holidays. But the turn in seasons also marks another important change. Every year at about this time, a significant number of people feel an increase in anxiety due to the autumn months.
Autumn anxiety is a real condition. First coined by Gillian Scully, a thought field therapist, in 2005, autumn anxiety refers to the feelings of anxiousness that are suddenly present as summer transitions to fall. Patients commonly complain of a heightened sense of anticipation without knowing exactly what they were looking forward to. Psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron called these patients highly sensitive persons (HSPs). HSPs have “increased central nervous system sensitivity to physical, emotional, or social stimuli” and seem to feel seasonal shifts more acutely than non-HSPs. Dr. Aron’s work proposed that up to 20% of the general population are highly sensitive.
There are several triggers for autumn anxiety. And knowing these triggers may help you deal with the fallout better.
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. In fact, exercise has been proven to relieve stress and tension in the body and enhance your mental and physical well-being.
Unfortunately, the change in seasons makes it harder to stick to an exercise regimen. The shorter days offer fewer daylight hours for walkers and joggers. The colder weather also makes exercising outdoors difficult for those who prefer working out with a great view.
Going back to school
Taking on too many responsibilities
A 2008 study identified a link between seasonal allergies and anxiety. This link has consistently shown up in real-world settings. Dr. Maya Nanda, a pediatrician in the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, noticed that kids with severe allergies seemed to have higher rates of anxiety and depression. In one particular patient, shortness of breath was actually a symptom of a panic attack instead of asthma, as was previously believed. Dr. Nanda eventually published a study that showed that kids with seasonal allergies were three times more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety.
Allergies and anxiety present similarly because they both attack our immune system. When our body is exposed to an allergen, it starts pumping cytokines, which are proteins that incite inflammation. These cytokines stress the body. And when the body is stressed, so is the mind.
Some people experience a more severe form of autumn anxiety called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is listed in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. People with SAD have depressed moods, always feel tired despite too much sleep, and usually present with some amount of weight gain. SAD is more common among women and can last about 40% of the year.
If autumn anxiety or SAD is keeping you from working, sleeping, or is interrupting your schedule, it is best to talk to your doctor. Otherwise, here are some proven techniques to combat a severe case of fall sadness:
Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box for at least 20 minutes a day and is best done first thing in the morning. A light therapy box provides 10,000 lux of energy (lux is a measure of light intensity), which is 100x brighter than usual indoor lighting. In comparison, a day in the sun provides 50,000 lux or more. And while light boxes are not FDA tested, approved, or regulated, they seem to have strong benefits and little harm in fighting autumn anxiety and SAD.
Alternatively, get as much time outside in the sun as you can before winter arrives fully. Have breakfast on your patio; walk your dog through the fall foliage; go for a jog at sunset.
Take care of your health
Take a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients keep bones, teeth, and muscles like your heart healthy.
Load up on magnesium, the mineral responsible for sustaining and nurturing your central nervous system. A study published in Neuropharmacology suggested that magnesium deficiency can increase stress levels and induce anxiety, whereas magnesium supplementation has shown promise in improving anxiety, premenstrual dysphoria, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Be mindful of your allergies. Avoid your allergens, where possible. Consult with your primary care physician for anti-allergy medication and take them as prescribed.
Exercise has been proven to help alleviate anxiety in some people. It works by diverting your attention from the very things giving you anxiety. Moving also decreases muscle tension, which contributes to anxious states. Higher heart rates have been associated with improved brain function. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout. What’s better is that the effects of exercise are long-lasting. A single session can alleviate symptoms for hours. And a regular exercise schedule may significantly reduce anxiety over time.
If starting an exercise regimen seems hard, try working out with a friend or significant other. Exercising in a group will give you all the benefits of exercise and the added benefit of social support.
Honor your need for space
Most importantly, set firm boundaries to protect your energy and learn to say no when the experience does not benefit you. You do not have to attend every social function. Neither are you required to say yes to every family invitation. When necessary, you can choose to stay home and spend the night however you choose.
Similarly, learn to manage expectations. When you feel a bout of anxiety coming up, tell your friends and loved ones so they can also adjust to you. You never know, a quiet night in might be just what they need too.
The silver lining is that autumn anxiety typically only lasts a few weeks. While the holidays may be difficult for all sorts of reasons, it also marks the start of a fresh new year. Always remember to treat yourself kindly. Trust that the unease you feel will pass in the same way that fall turns into winter then into spring.
If you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Crisis Text Line is a great service that can connect you to a trained counselor via text through a secure platform. Contact the right number for your country below:
United States – Text HOME to 741741
Canada – Text HOME to 741741
United Kingdom – Text SHOUT to 85258
Ireland – Text HOME to 50808
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If you’re all out of date ideas, why not try to workout together as a couple? Working out has been proven to not only boost