As the leaves change color and the days grow shorter, many people feel more anxious than usual.
Although “autumn anxiety” isn’t exactly a diagnosable condition, it may be related to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that is closely associated with the shorter days of winter.
This anxiety could also be due to the transition out of summer and into the school year, the stress of the holidays, or the changes in available activities.
Whatever the cause, you can do a few things to ease your anxiety during this time of year (or any time, for that matter).
Light in the Morning, Dark at Night
Your body functions (including the circulation of hormones associated with mood) are regulated by your exposure to light.
During the autumn and winter, the days get shorter, and the nights get longer.
This shift in available daylight can potentially change your body’s natural rhythms in a way that manifests as stress, anxiety, and depression.
To help combat this, try to get as much light exposure as possible in the morning. Spend some time each day outside in the sunlight, or at least open up your window blinds.
And in the evening, your body needs dim lights or darkness to produce melatonin— the hormone that prepares you for sleep. To encourage this process, avoid using screens (TV, cell phones, tablets, computers) in the hours leading up to your bedtime.
Instead, try reading a book, taking a bath, or doing other calming activities.
Physical Activities and Social Interactions
When the summer comes to a close, it can be easy to get wrapped up in work or school and forget to take care of your physical and mental health.
If you aren’t getting some exercise each day, not only will your physical health suffer, but you’ll also tend to experience more stress and anxiety.
It’s important to find a physical activity you enjoy and make time for it in your schedule.
This could get your heart rate up and your body moving, such as hiking, biking, running, swimming, playing sports, or even just going for a long walk.
Even better—find something you can do with friends or family. The extra social interaction will help to reduce stress and improve your mood, in addition to the benefits of the physical activity itself.
When you’re feeling anxious, your heart rate and breathing speed up as your body goes into “fight or flight” mode.
This is a normal and instinctive response to stress, but it is only sometimes helpful.
Next time you feel anxious, see if you can notice what your breathing is like in these moments. It is probably shallower, quicker, and higher in your chest.
Try to slow down your breathing and focus on taking deep, full breaths—low and slow. All the way and all the way out, from the lowest part of your belly.
This will help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming your heart rate, relaxing your muscles, and helping you feel more relaxed overall.
While you do this, it may also help to try progressive muscle relaxation.
This relaxation technique involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body one at a time. Clench your fists as you breathe in, then let go and breathe out as you relax your hands. Then, flex your arm muscles for a big breath in, then relax as you breathe out. Continue this pattern all throughout your body, including your facial muscles.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
If you find that your anxiety is interfering with your daily life, it may be time to seek out professional help.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can be very effective in treating anxiety.
CBT works by helping you to identify and change the thought patterns that contribute to your anxiety. For example, if you tend to worry a lot about things that could go wrong, CBT can help you to learn how to challenge these negative thoughts and see things in a more realistic light.
You don’t need to wait until your anxiety is out of control to seek help. It’s often easier to get the help you need when you act early before your anxiety has a chance to get too severe.
A therapist or counselor can also help you learn and practice additional tools and techniques for managing your anxiety.