Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is characterized by feelings of depression that start and end at the same time every year, in accordance with a change in seasons. Typically, it is associated with lack of sunlight during the winter months. However, the disorder can affect individuals during any of the four seasons. For instance, depression that is experienced annually during the summer months is referred to as “reserve SAD”.
Now, with fall on the horizon, many individuals may be experiencing a subset of SAD that has been referred to anecdotally as “autumn anxiety”.
What is autumn anxiety?
Autumn anxiety refers to changes in mood that are experienced annually and in specific relation to the fall months.
It’s important to not that and depression are common mental health conditions that many people cope with throughout the year. In fact, it would be odd if anxiety functioned like a light switch—flipped on the first day of the Autumn Equinox hits and then switched back off at the strike of midnight on the Winter Solstice. Anxiety will ebb and flow throughout the year in accordance with life events, chronic illnesses, and fluctuations in one’s own personal brain chemistry.
However, if you consistently experience a noticeable increase in symptoms during a specific time each year, it’s worth understanding a little more about the additional factors that are impacting your well-being.
Common symptoms of autumn anxiety include:
When these feelings persist over a prolonged period, they can contribute to:
- low energy
- sleep disturbances
What causes autumn anxiety?
Autumn anxiety is thought to be caused by changes in schedules and routines that occur when summer transitions into fall. For students especially, there can be a lot of stress related to academic and social success in school. On top of that, they might be anxious about having to get up earlier and their ability to function on less sleep. As noted previously, less sleep can also worsen anxiety.
Here are some other common external triggers for autumn anxiety:
- anticipatory stress about the holiday season, which is fraught with stress for many people
- anticipatory worry about wintertime seasonal affective disorder
- regret about unfilled summer plans and goals
- feeling depressed that a great summertime experience is ending
- feeling unmotivated to return to the usual school or work routine
What can you do?
No matter what the cause, there are steps you can take to alleviate your anxious feels during this fall season:
Short-term coping skills:
- Mindfulness. When you find yourself racing from one thing to the next, or continually ruminating over “what if” scenarios, take a moment to pause and check in with yourself. Make an effort to really observe your physical state and ask yourself if you are experiencing the signs of being overstimulated and overwhelmed. Once an anxiety-provoking situation is over, take adequate time to rest and recharge. Remember, you will not be productive if you try to bravely “push through” exhaustion and sensory overload.
- Deep breathing. Anxiety can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat, which in turn can make you feel even more anxious. Taking deep, controlled breaths can instantly alleviate these physical symptoms. Practice by inhaling though your nose until your stomach is expanded. Pause for a few seconds before exhaling your breath through your mouth while letting all your muscles relax, as if you are taking a big sigh.
Long-term coping skills:
- Fostering acceptance: remind yourself that nobody can predict how future events will unfold. Acknowledge that you are feeling uncertain and that anxiety is an inherent part of uncertainty. Rather than resist the anxiety, intentionally confront and acknowledge the worry “it is possible that I could lose my job. Anything could I can’t predict the future”. Worrying about “what ifs” will not change the future for the worse or better, it will only diminish your emotional capacity to cope with whatever does happen.
- Identifying negative scripts: Anxiety can trick you into believing that the world as more threatening than it really is. These thinking errors, or “cognitive distortions”, occurs when you rely on biased logic to process and interpret information. As a result, you feel this type of chronic anxiety without understanding the real trigger for the emotion. This skewed perspective on reality creates with feelings of distress.
- Common types of cognitive distortions include:
- All-or-nothing thinking: thinking in terms of black and white. “Everything must be perfect, or I am a total failure.”
- Overgeneralization: applying the outcome a single negative experience to all current scenarios. “The last interview I had was terrible. This interview will be a disaster too. I am not employable.”
- Fortune-telling: immediately jumping immediately to worst-case scenarios. “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop…I just know that something is going to go horribly wrong.”
Listen to your thoughts and be mindful of when you are falling into these thinking traps. Ask yourself: what is the evidence for this belief? What is the probability that this fear will come true? Is there a more realistic way of interpreting this situation?
Seeking Mental Health Support
If you believe you could benefit from understanding more about your symptoms or concerns, consider scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center. Our therapists can provide guidance, support, and strategies tailored to your specific needs. Meet our team to learn more!