Autumn Anxiety is Real

Autumn anxiety may not be an official diagnosis but the annual experience of increased stress at this time of year is very real. As seasons go, fall is cited by many of my patients as the most stressful. The end of summer, a new school year, a more rigid schedule, and the impending holidays all contribute to autumn anxiety. Concerns about the delta variant are making the transition this year especially challenging.

Here are five strategies to help you stay strong within this stressful season:

  1. Just because the summer is over does not mean it is time to hibernate. Spend as much time as you can outdoors. Being in nature reduces rumination and has a calming effect on the body and mind. If possible, walk your child to school. Walking to school has been shown to improve students’ focus and behavior and will give your morning a boost too.
  2. How you talk about accomplishing tasks can impact how you feel about them. Saying “I have to finish the project” implies an obligation and that you are working on the project because it is expected of you. Consider saying instead, “I want to finish the project.” Not only will you be more likely to complete the project when you tap in your intrinsic motivation, the process will be more enjoyable.
  3. Make healthy habits a family value. Model the behavior you want to encourage. Eat the fruits and vegetables you serve to your kids. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Make sleep a priority for everyone. Everyone will be happier, healthier, and less stressed.
  4. As tempting as it is to withdraw from others and to retreat into oneself when feeling overwhelmed, excessive self-focus tends to amplify stress. Remember to look outside yourself for connection and inspiration. Look up from your phone. Make plans with friends. Lend a hand to someone in need. Doing things with and for others is resilience-building. Even small gestures like opening a door for a stranger, holding the elevator, bringing a co-worker coffee, or telling your partner how much you appreciate them can help mitigate autumn anxiety. Making an effort, even when you least feel like it, will fortify you.
  5. Resist the urge to fill every afternoon with after school activities and allow for some downtime instead. Encourage your kids to keep themselves busy and to fill free time by coming up with their own games. In addition to boosting their creativity and ability to take initiative, you will benefit from not having to shuttle them to yet another after school practice.

Albert Camus observed, “autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower” but not everyone shares his excitement for the season. Transitions often cause anxiety and the transition this year from summer to fall is extra stressful for many people. Whatever you do, don’t admire the autumn leaves as they fall from your iPhone screen. Go and see the real thing.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman