You may know all about seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs with the change of seasons and is usually most prevalent during winter months. But what about “autumn anxiety?” Just like it sounds, it is prevalent in the fall months. “Anxiety is a buildup of the natural emotion of fear within one’s self,” Eric Almeida, a mental health practitioner who specializes in EFT (emotional freedom technique), tells TZR in an email. “That fear tends to keep a person fixated on the future, constantly worried about ‘What if?’ Autumn anxiety is identical to the typical symptoms of anxiety, but is triggered by the fall season.”
Symptoms can include things like excessive worry, irritability, fatigue/sleeplessness, a lack of interest in everyday activities, and feeling depressed. “If you experience more than half of the typical symptoms for weeks at a time, it would be a good indicator that you are experiencing an anxiety flare-up during the autumn season,” says Almeida. “Keep in mind, ‘autumn anxiety’ is not a condition you can be clinically diagnosed with — it is simply a trend that is seen in people who have a tendency toward anxiety symptoms in autumn.”
Dr. Sony Sherpa, a holistic physician and writer at Nature’s Rise, tells TZR that all of us have good and bad days, but autumn anxiety is more than having a bad day. “Autumn anxiety is real — in fact, millions of people are affected by it every year,” she says. “In most cases, you don’t know what causes this feeling, but it can be associated with changes in your schedule, the weather, and the environment.”
She says you may notice changes in your appetite and sleep, which may cause fatigue and lack of energy. You may also become more irritable, anxious, and worry about things more than usual. You usually feel down throughout the day and lose interest in activities you typically enjoy. “Many of my patients experience autumn anxiety, even if fall is their favorite season,” Sherpa says. “They call autumn a bittersweet season — imagine feeling anxiety and panic despite liking the season.”
What It’s Like To Have Autumn Anxiety
“Autumn anxiety usually begins before the onset of SAD,” Sharhonda Ford, CEO of Beyond the Mask Trauma and Wellness, tells TZR. “It is exhausting, debilitating, and challenging. It is difficult to experience such a significant mood change and not understand what is happening.” As a licensed clinical mental health counselor, Ford not only helps people with autumn anxiety and SAD, but has also lived with them herself for decades. “It was not until recent years that I became aware of what I was experiencing,” she says.
Ford would begin having symptoms of autumn anxiety once the weather began to change, the time shifted (from daylight savings time), and the days were shorter. “The absence of sunlight was (and is) very significant for my symptoms,” she explains. “I noticed I’d become more fatigued and depressed, and began to isolate and became easily agitated or irritated. My patience decreased, and the joy I previously felt dissipated as my autumn anxiety increased over the months.”
Ford says it didn’t help that, when she’d leave for work in the morning, there would be little light, and when she’d head home, there would be none at all. “Without light, there was no time to enjoy the day, and with that particular job, I did not have the capacity to take breaks or have a window close enough to enjoy the sunlight during the day,” she says.
“My mood at work would shift throughout the day, and I became recognizably unpleasant, less productive, and distracted due to my difficulty concentrating. I had increased worry, more of a desire for sleep and oversleeping, sadness, would crave junk food, avoid activities I would typically enjoy, and lacked focus.”
Symptoms Of Autumn Anxiety Can Vary From Person-To-Person
“Autumn anxiety varies from person-to-person — and the causes can vary, too,” says Almeida. “A common link is that the antidepressant effect of summer has ended (warm weather, longer days, vacations). The return to the more typical work and school schedule, along with the very-quickly-approaching holidays, fills people with much more anxiety.”
Janelle Axton, founder and blogger of Make the Trip Matter, tells TZR that, initially, she didn’t pick up on the fact that the change in seasons, and beginning of autumn, would affect her mood. “I didn’t realize I was becoming more irritable, sad, and just generally moody as fall came around,” she says. “It’s the feeling of coming off of the high of summertime, warmth, and lots of events and activities, and moving into a season that feels more calm and low,” she explains.
Now, she can prepare better as the seasons change. “I know as soon as it starts getting cloudier and the temperature drops, my mood will also drop,” Axton says. She will experience low energy, a lack of motivation, and feel sad or even lonely. “Professionally, it often manifests as a lack of creativity and motivation, too,” she adds.
How Do You Know If You Have Autumn Anxiety?
“It may be difficult to determine if you have autumn anxiety if you’re not tracking your feelings,” says Ford. “However, noticing the symptoms — by identifying, acknowledging, and addressing how you feel — can help your healthcare professional understand if the symptoms are based on seasonal sadness or a different mental health challenge.”
Ford says she knew she had autumn anxiety when her SAD symptoms began earlier and her worries increased — and they went beyond depression and dread of the holidays without loved ones. If you’re trying to determine whether or not you may be experiencing autumn anxiety, she says to ask yourself these questions:
- Have you noticed a change in mood since fall started?
- Do you have a need for increased sleep?
- Are you feeling increased worry?
- Have you noticed feelings of depression or hopelessness?
- Have you noticed more fatigue?
If you answered “yes” to at least two of the above, Ford suggests speaking to a mental healthcare professional.
How To Manage Autumn Anxiety
As debilitating as it may be, there are several things you can do to manage autumn anxiety. “Any change in mood can be difficult to handle, but becomes easier when you’ve got strategies to manage it,” Kimberly Vered Shashoua, LCSW, founder of VeredCounseling.com, tells TZR in an email. “Being able to pinpoint the source of your anxiety is often the first step in taming it. It’s OK if you feel a little worse during the autumn months — it’s just your body adjusting to different changes.”
She says while some people may need psychiatric medication during the periods they know will be hard, non-medicinal changes can be greatly beneficial, as well. “Rituals to acknowledge the changes can often help, too, such as creating a school/fall calendar, planting fall flowers, or swapping out your usual coffee for a pumpkin-y spice blend,” she says. Plus, making sure you get enough rest, movement, and light. And, speaking of light…
“Start with getting up in the morning with the sun,” Celeste Labadie, therapist, brain coach, and creator of The Anxiety Relief Method, tells TZR in an email. “Then go outside for at least 15 minutes of natural light coming through your eyes to your brain. Breathe in the air and move your body by walking — or doing some kind of standing yoga or physical ‘bouncing.’” She says this allows your brain and body to adjust to the day and start a neurological process that will benefit you throughout the day.
Labadie says that if you can’t do this first thing in the morning try lunchtime, so you get maximum sun exposure. “Be sure to get some physical exercise — and light,” she says. “You can also get a buddy to go walking with every day.” Ford agrees, saying it’s important to take breaks during the day. “Go outside during your lunch and take walks around the neighborhood,” she says. “It gives you an opportunity to be in the sun, experience the breeze, and appreciate the beauty of nature in autumn. And the increase of serotonin from the sunlight will give your mood a boost and allow you to enjoy the days more.”
Ford says even if you can’t get outside, exercising is important in order to help alleviate anxiety symptoms. “I’ve started riding my Peloton bike and/or exercising for 30 minutes a day,” she says. “Exercise increases endorphins (neurotransmitters) and will give you more happy vibes.”
To decrease anxiety, drinking plenty of water is important, too. And Almeida suggests mitigating excessive caffeine, alcohol, and stimulant consumption, too, as these can all make you more anxious. Furthermore, he says some people also try mood-boosting supplements. These can include everything from adaptogens to ashwagandha.
Axton says that to manage her autumn anxiety, when the weather starts to change and become more grey, she gradually switches her diet and routine so the change isn’t too abrupt. “For my diet, I start taking vitamin D daily, which is what the sun provides and your body will be lacking when it starts to get cloudy out,” she says. “I find this is one of the biggest things that helps. I also start to add in more hearty vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, as well as more warm meals and comforting soups/stews.”
Axton also tries to make a mental shift, too. “I try to get excited for what the fall and winter will bring, as it helps me keep some high energy through the autumn mood changes,” she says. “So throw yourself into the fun of the holidays and do things like watch holiday movies, go to a pumpkin patch, or bake an apple pie.”
Ford also says that with remote work still being prevalent, you can make certain changes at your home office to help alleviate autumn anxiety. She says try to work in a room with plenty of sunlight or get a ring light, which will make the space brighter and lessen your awareness of the change in light in the earlier parts of the day.
Labadie adds that you can also try light box therapy, which mirrors outdoor light. To make it more enjoyable, she suggests doing a project, or something fun, while sitting in front of your light box. However, speak to your healthcare provider first, as light boxes are not approved or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ford also recommends closing your blinds 15 minutes before it begins to get dark. “Doing this can prevent you from noticing a change in the light and the overwhelming feeling of ‘early darkness,’” she says.
Another way to help alleviate autumn anxiety is by taking up a craft or creative project that you wouldn’t do inside in the summer. “Now that fall is here and winter is coming, creative mind time will help you feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment,” Labadie says.
Journaling is another tool that can help. “Journaling is a way to track what you are feeling, and you can use it as a template to identify trends and patterns of behavior,” says Ford.
And making sure you see people — in real life — is also imperative, Labadie says. “Meet a friend or host a potluck,” she says. “In essence, don’t completely be a hermit. Your brain needs positive stimulation so you don’t focus on the season change so much.”
Speaking of which, Axton says she pays close attention to her morning and nighttime routines, too. “I try to intentionally slow down and focus on becoming more introspective,” she says. “This often means reworking my morning and nighttime routines and adding in more meditation and gratitude practices.” Almeida adds that practicing good sleep hygiene can help, as well, including — going to bed (and getting up) at the same time every day; having a dark and cool bedroom; and not looking at electronics for at least 60 minutes before bed.
And yet another way to help alleviate autumn anxiety is by seeing a mental health professional. “While treating your autumn anxiety is important, for prolonged healing, it’s also good to treat your anxiety at large,” Almeida says. “The goal would be to uncover, and process, the built-up fear that has accumulated from past experiences,” he says. “This accumulation causes the normal emotion of fear to morph into anxiety and be ever-present in one’s life. That is why anxiety can come up at any time and be triggered by so many things.”
It’s old fear from your past, Almeida explains, whether it’s from being raised in a chaotic household or experiencing a highly fearful event, like a car accident. “The sooner you start to confront your anxiety (i.e., fear), the sooner you can live life in a state of peace and calm,” he says.
Acknowledge That You Have Autumn Anxiety (Vs. Being Ashamed Of It)
“Having autumn anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Ford. “It's OK to not be OK, and asking for help is a sign of strength.” She adds that enlisting a support system to share your feelings, and hold you accountable to your wellness plan, is essential. “And choosing a psychotherapist to support — and work through mental health challenges — may prevent spiraling and increased symptoms of autumn anxiety, too,” she says.
Ford says one of the most beneficial steps she took in her effort to manage hers is addressing it. “I do so unashamedly, unapologetically, and authentically — I speak boldly about the signs, symptoms, and ways to overcome them — and I am transparent with my clients, family, and followers,” she says. “I am not exempt, and neither are you.” To that end, she suggests embracing your autumn anxiety with intentional healthy wellness behaviors and identify, acknowledge, and address what you need throughout the season.
Overall, Ford says that any small, self-soothing changes you make can benefit the symptoms of your autumn anxiety. “If you notice an increase in any of your symptoms, shift your adjustments to manage the increase,” she says. “Then identify, acknowledge, and address what you are feeling so you can overcome any anxiety before you become overwhelmed by it.”