Parenting

'Autumn Anxiety' Is Common— Here's How I'm Feeling Right Now

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A couple of weeks ago, as I was sitting on the couch waiting for my family to get ready to go out, I felt a heaviness—a feeling of dread—fill my whole body. Then, when we were in the car, on the way to the park to celebrate my nine-year-old’s birthday, I felt a sudden pang of despair, and my heart started to race.

Everything was fine. It was a beautiful fall day. We were going out to celebrate the birth of my sweet child, my equinox baby. Why was I freaking out?

The following morning, I came across an article about “autumn anxiety.” It’s a phrase coined by Welsh psychologist Gillian Scully in 2005, and was totally eye-opening. According to Scully, experiencing feelings of anxiety and dread as the season changes from summer to autumn is common.

Scully told Wales Online that autumn anxiety is something she sees frequently in her own clients, and something she experiences herself. When I read her description of the phenomenon, I felt like she was in my head.

Here’s how she described her clients’ experiences of autumn anxiety: “They described feeling a bit anxious—these are not people who are generally anxious—but without knowing the cause of the anxiety. They said it was almost a feeling of anticipation but, again, without knowing what they were supposed to be anticipating.”

Holy hell. This is me. A feeling of almost existential dread. A feeling of doom. And for no clear reason.

Except, according to Scully, there are a few reasons why many of us experience anxiety as the season changes from summer to fall.

First, Scully tells Wales Online that usually the people who experience autumn anxiety are the kinds of people who are sensitive to their surroundings to begin with. As a highly sensitive person, I can definitely relate. I get migraines when it’s about to rain, and simple shifts in barometric pressure affect my mood and my digestive system. So yeah, it makes sense that a change in seasons would affect me.

But Scully said even less sensitive, more level-headed folks are likely experiencing this too. “[F]ar more logical people were also feeling it, although they probably weren’t able to identify it and write it off as a state of flux,” Scully told Wales Online.

Autumn anxiety is mostly characterized as experiencing a feeling of anxiety and anticipation, but without an obvious cause. The anxiety has to do with the changing seasons—the change from warm weather to cooler weather, the change from days with more hours of sunlight, to days with fewer hours.

According to Healthline, autumn anxiety is likely also caused by the other life transitions that many of us experience at this time, including the start of a new school year and the beginning of the holiday season. All of that is coupled with less time outdoors, and less time moving our bodies and exercising.

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For many of us parents, the beginning of this school year was definitely a time of heightened anxiety. Sending your kids to school during a still-raging pandemic is not for the faint of heart. Personally, I was absolutely freaking out. But most of that had passed for me by the time I was experiencing my bout of autumn anxiety.

I think for me, it was a combination of the change in season and the ushering in of the holiday season. My son’s September birthday is certainly a happy occasion, but literally everyone in my immediate family—and many in my extended family—have birthdays between the months of September and January. All of that, coupled with the long list of holidays coming up, was absolutely stressing me out.

Yeah, I love the holidays just as much as anyone, but they are a very busy, high stakes time—not to mention a time of intense socializing. For an introvert like me, it’s kind of a nightmare. So yeah, autumn anxiety, here we go…

I noticed that I was feeling a lot of dread getting out of bed in the morning this past week. It sucks to wake up in pitch darkness. I had also noticed that the sun has been setting earlier and earlier, which is also a bit depressing. Seasonal affective disorder, anyone?

Although autumn anxiety is similar to seasonal affective disorder, Scully says it’s a little different, and corresponds specifically with the ushering in of the fall season, the change from summer to autumn. Autumn anxiety can be intense but it has a shorter duration than seasonal affective disorder. It just encompasses those last few weeks of summer and those first few weeks of fall, says Scully.

Of course, for many of us, autumn anxiety can bleed straight into seasonal affective disorder, so that’s fun. And although autumn anxiety and seasonal affective disorder are different, the way you treat them is similar.

Healthline recommends trying to get a little more sunlight each day once you notice your autumn anxiety creeping in, and considering light therapy, if that doesn’t work. Sometimes we need to up our dose of vitamin D during this time (talk to your doctor if you think you might be low in vitamin D, and ask them for the right dose for you). Finally, exercising or moving in whatever way makes you happy, can work wonders.

If your autumn anxiety lingers, and you are finding that your feelings of anxiety are making it hard for you to function or feel okay, you should consider talking to your doctor or a therapist about ways to treat your anxiety. No one should just “put up” with things like anxiety or depression: help is out there.

Thankfully, for most of us, autumn anxiety passes in a few weeks, as we transition more fully into the autumn season. For me, just knowing what was going on—and knowing I wasn’t alone in feeling like I was—was very helpful.

I’m hoping that once my little bout of autumn anxiety passes, I can start to really enjoy the season. Fall has always been my favorite season, and I can’t wait to watch the leaves change, sip my pumpkin latte, and wrap myself in a warm sweater.

Yeah, it’s totally cliché, but those things give me comfort. And I’ll take comfort over anxiety any day.

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