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Autumn Anxiety: Why You May Feel More Stressed This Season

Discussion in 'Psychiatry' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, Sep 29, 2019.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

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    As pool time, sunshine, and longer days are on the way out, and autumn makes its way in, some people find themselves feeling anxious.

    “Autumn anxiety is the tendency for people to suffer from anxiety and low mood during the autumn months,” Dr. Clare Morrison, medical advisor at MedExpress, told Healthline.

    “Unlike other anxiety, there often isn’t an obvious external trigger, and it tends to recur annually,” she said.

    She says many people don’t realize how common anxiety in autumn is, and may not recognize it.

    “However, if it occurs every year, the pattern will become obvious, and one can take steps to prevent it,” she said.

    Morrison points to the following as symptoms of autumn anxiety:
    • low mood and depression
    • anxiety and excessive worry
    • irritability
    • lethargy, sleepiness, and fatigue
    • loss of interest in everyday activities
    “One of the causes is the reduction in sunlight, leading to falling levels of serotonin. This important hormone affects mood, appetite, and sleep patterns. There is also an increase in the hormone melatonin, which tends to make one feel sleepy and depressed,” Morrison explained.

    Less vitamin D is another effect of being exposed to less sunlight.

    “Lack of this has also been linked with depression,” said Morrison. “Other factors include behavioral changes, because as the weather deteriorates, we spend less time outdoors and do less exercise.”

    Is it autumn anxiety or something else?

    Patricia Thornton, PhD, licensed psychologist in New York City, agreed that changes in the season can bring about mood changes and anxiety, however, she said autumn anxiety isn’t a recognized condition.

    “We usually talk about SAD — seasonal affective disorder. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, the weather is getting colder. There can be anxiety of going back to school and pressure to be academically successful and socially successful,” Thornton told Healthline. “Autumn anxiety could be the anticipatory anxiety about getting SAD.”

    She says transitions can also cause anxiety.

    “People who struggle with transitions or any kind of change in life circumstances, like a change in schedule with going back to school, might be anxious because now they have to get up earlier and might get less sleep. This can cause anxiety, particularly if their anxiety is caused by less sleep,” said Thornton.

    However, she notes that many clients of hers who have OCD and anxiety disorders feel better when they’re back at school or work and have a routine.

    “This is because OCD and anxiety can explode when there is not enough to do,” Thornton said. “If someone is idle during the summer, they are eager to get back to school because they have something to focus on, and that helps them to alleviate their thoughts, worries, and rumination.”

    Another explanation for negative feelings during autumn could be what Thornton refers to as, “anniversary reaction.”

    For instance, as you get into the cooler months and receive less sunlight, you recall that wintertime is tough.

    “This is a phenomenon that occurs usually around anniversaries of events. Sometimes they are traumatic events, like death or assault, but sometimes it’s just a remembrance of a feeling around the time of the anniversary that can invoke feelings, and you might be unaware why you are feeling anxious or depressed,” said Thornton.

    “There is a body awareness and unconscious awareness that, ‘Oh, this is generally a tough time, so I’m going to have a tough time again,'” she said.

    The end of summer can also bring about feelings of regret for not doing everything you planned to experience or accomplish during the summer months.

    “Or if you had a fabulous summer and it’s over, that can be depressing,” said Thornton.

    Lastly, the impending holidays are often a source of stress.

    “Holidays are fraught for people. They’re not like Hallmark cards, so if you anticipate you are getting into the cooler months and the holidays are coming, and you’re not sure how you’ll deal with Thanksgiving, there can be a lot of stress — especially if you think you should be happy because it’s a celebration,” said Thornton.

    What can you do?

    No matter what may be causing your anxious feelings during the autumn season, Morrison and Thornton suggest these 6 things may help provide relief:

    1. Get more light

    Start by spending more time outdoors to make the most of what sunlight there is.

    Morrison suggests getting up early to take in the morning sunshine. “If necessary, go to bed earlier to help combat fatigue and daytime sleepiness,” she said.

    However, because it can be dark in the early morning, she said to consider using a light box.

    “This is a bright lamp which can be used for 30 minutes a day or more, to expose the eyes to extra light,” said Morrison.

    Thornton agrees, stating that there are a variety of light therapy boxes. “There are even some that gradually increase in intensity as you wake up, so they simulate the sun rising even if it’s pitch black outside,” she said.

    2. Exercise every day

    Morrison suggests exercising daily for at least 30 minutes.

    “Once the hot summer weather has subsided, autumn is a great time for enjoying the outdoors, so do make the most of it by taking long walks or cycle rides. Alternatively, start a new sport or join the gym,” she said.

    Thornton agreed, noting that she advocates exercise with all her clients.

    “Exercise is key across the board for mental health disorders. Every study shows improved mood after exercise,” Thornton said.

    3. Change your diet

    Autumn is an excellent time to think about what you eat, said Morrison.

    Thornton agreed, saying the autumn season is a great time to make your favorite seasonal soups and warm meals you didn’t get to eat over the summer.

    4. Start something new

    Because autumn is a time of fresh starts, a new term, and a new season, Morrison says to think of it as a time to declutter, tidy the house, garden, and reorganize.

    She added to consider a new image, hobby, or evening class you’ve been hoping to take.

    5. Reframe your outlook

    Rather than associating autumn with negative experiences, Thornton said to try to look at it differently by reframing.

    “Humans are very focused on loss. In this case, the loss of sunlight and being outside, so try to think about what you can do about being inside,” she said. “Rather than thinking, ‘It’s cold and I’ll be stuck inside,’ try to think of being inside as, say, cozy,” she said.

    One way to do this is to change the environment in your home with a comfortable, warm blanket, or accent pillows that are autumn colors.

    “Now, you are taking what feels like a loss and are thinking about it in a different way,” said Thornton.

    6. Seek out professional help

    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown in research to effectively treat anxiety and seasonal affective disorder. Additionally, antidepressants, such as SSRIs, are often prescribed for SAD.

    “This is because SAD is more about depression. However, it does tend to start in autumn because of the anticipatory anxiety and because the days are getting shorter,” said Thornton.

    If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, Morrison says to see your doctor.

    “Don’t wait until things get really bad,” she said. “If you start to feel anxious and depressed, take prompt action to improve your mood.”

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