“Autumn Anxiety” Is a Thing, and This Is How I Deal with It

published Oct 5, 2022
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Woman sitting on couch wrapped in blanket looking sad
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Every Aug. 1, an alarm goes off in my brain. Fall is coming. Then winter. Then you’ll be depressed. FOR MONTHS. While it’s not exactly a cheerful thought, it’s one that I can count on every year. But every year, I also learn how to prepare myself even better for what’s heading my way: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Known as “SAD,” it’s a form of depression that affects people as the seasons change, resulting in low mood, lethargy, and non-stop carb cravings until spring makes its return once again. According to Mental Health America, it impacts around 5 percent of the U.S. population, especially people who live in the northern states. 

“But you know that it’s coming. Doesn’t that help at all?” 

Nope. If you were to ask me that, I would explain that knowing I experience seasonal depression year after year only results in anticipatory anxiety, which has come to be known by many as “autumn anxiety” if it centers around the seasons or schedules changing.

Helene D’Jay, MS, LPC, Executive Director of Young Adult Services for Newport Healthcare Connecticut, describes autumn anxiety as “feelings of dread associated with a seasonal pattern.” 

While D’Jay says that it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact trigger of autumn anxiety, for many, things like a reduction in sunlight and less exercise can lead to drops in serotonin levels. And it’s not just seasonal changes that can bring about these not-so-great feelings, and they aren’t solely experienced by those like me with SAD. “Many younger people, including young adults, also have increased anxiety over school and college starting and added pressure to excel academically,” D’Jay says. 

Those demands, plus knowing that cold winter weather is approaching, dealing with holidays, and getting less sleep can all add up to having little to no joy when PSL season comes around. So, what’s a person with autumn anxiety to do? Read on for some helpful tips.

Credit: Getty Images/Robert Lang Photography

Make the most of the available sunlight.

Even though I know I feel my best when the sun is literally hitting my skin (thanks, daily runs), I do get out there even when the temperatures fall so I can at least feel it on my face. Prioritizing getting outside and seeing the sun reminds me that the warmth hasn’t disappeared forever, and it’ll be back again as soon as winter makes its exit. Also, nature is an incredible mood-lifter, so that doesn’t hurt either. 

Exercise every day.

Yup, that’s right. I’m sure many of you aren’t stoked to read that, but it’s really true. Remember how I mentioned that I run every day? It helps me to put my anxiety somewhere, whether it’s autumn anxiety or another form of jitters. D’Jay recommends “long walks in the autumn air,” bike rides, or joining a gym if you just can’t face those chilly temps. 

Credit: Jessica Rapp

Start something new. 

While people may associate spring with trying something new, think of autumn as your moment to turn a new leaf. “Autumn is a time of fresh starts, making it a great time to consider starting a new hobby or learning something new,” D’Jay observes. It’s the perfect opportunity to take a class you’ve always wanted to add to your schedule, visit a new orchard with your kiddos to do some apple-picking, or read those books that have stacked up during your busy summer. 

Stay in the present.

This is probably the thing that I struggle with the most. As soon as August hits, I think about how fall is right around the corner. When the first leaf turns orange, I think about winter and being cold and miserable. And during the first snow, oh boy — sometimes I’m practically inconsolable. But I’m working on staying in the present, and it truly does help when it comes to autumn anxiety. 

“Try to focus on the day-to-day,” D’Jay advises. That means being present during that class lecture, breathing in the crisp air without going over your to-do list, and not focusing on the doldrums of winter on a beautiful fall day. In other words? While it’s certainly hard, live fully in the season you’re in. I saw that quote once on Pinterest, and it’s always reminded me to make the most of the moment, even if it’s a non-summer season.

D’Jay sums it up well, saying, “Autumn anxiety can be a passing issue, tied to a particular year and what it brings, but if you see it happening to you every year, it may be more of a seasonal issue. The good news is that it can be anticipated, and you can plan around how to cope with it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Seek outside help when you need it.

Remember, D’Jay says: “If your struggles impact your quality of life or impact your ability to function, or if thoughts of harming yourself become apparent, professional help should be sought. Therapy and even seasonal medications can be explored before symptoms get too uncomfortable.” 

As I know all too well, there’s no shame in having autumn anxiety, and there’s certainly no shame in sharing your feelings and getting help whenever you need it.