As we move toward end of the summer into the autumn season, many people find themselves experiencing serious anxiety issues that increase as the days grow shorter. While most seasons are full of changes, the autumn season seems to incorporate more changes. Admittedly, it’s not necessarily from the lack of sunlight that propels these negative emotions. Rather, it’s a climax of events that begin to blast you all at once. Accurately termed as autumn anxiety, this seasonal condition is very real, and anything but fraudulent.
The good news is it’s entirely possible to cruise through August, September, and beyond with control and confidence. Let’s talk about the symptoms, causes, and what you need to know about managing autumn anxiety naturally.
What is Autumn Anxiety?
In a nut shell, autumn anxiety, a relatively new term for many, is defined as an annual increase in stress and anxiety during the autumn months. Although it’s not an officially diagnosed condition the way seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is diagnosed, Welsh therapist Gene Scully states in 2005 that “autumn anxiety is much more than a coincidence and beyond the usual feelings that people have when the seasons change.” And for the estimated 10 million people who do suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) the end of summer and the transition to fall can lead to autumn anxiety.
What are Symptoms of Autumn Anxiety?
The following are some symptoms of autumn anxiety.
- low mood
- muscle tension
- excessive worry
- digestive issues
- panic attacks
- loss of interest in everyday activities
What Causes Autumn Anxiety?
With the autumn months comes back-to-school, new schedules, new jobs, new social commitments, more sports activities, shorter days, cooler weather, the beginning of the up-coming holiday season, and much less free time than we experienced during summer — all a perfect recipe for autumn anxiety. When we put everything into perspective, it’s not surprising that many people get anxious in the fall and it’s important to note that the back-to-school blues can influence more than just your fourth grader; it can also affect adults of any age.
Fortunately managing autumn anxiety becomes much easier if you know what causes autumn anxiety in the first place. Let’s take a look.
Shorter Days and Less Sunlight
Anecdotal evidence indicates that the return of cooler weather plus shorter and shorter days, as we slide toward the winter months, can raise anxiety levels among children and adults. Limited exposure to sunlight is one of the main reasons so many people suffer from both anxiety and depression in the fall and winter. With the shorter days, most of us spend less time outside and in direct sunlight which can easily translate into a vitamin D deficiency. It’s a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked.
Autumn is always full of “newness” including new schedules, new jobs, new schools, and new assignments. It can be very difficult, for adults and children, to switch gears from the do-what-you-want vibes of summer to the hustle and bustle that hits us during the first couple of months of autumn. In fact, so difficult that it often brings on autumn anxiety symptoms — at least until we are comfortable with the “newness” and know what to expect.
Change of Diet
For most of us, during the fall months, our diet takes a huge change. We have a tendency to crave warm and more satisfying foods as well as sugar-laden desserts, especially during the seemingly endless holiday season. Holiday parties and socials are usually noted for high caloric foods and drinks that can cause both sugar highs and mood swings. Adding more sugar and unhealthy fats to our diet can foster anxiety, depression and weight gain — which adds even more stress. If you don’t believe me, give your child a peppermint candy cane about an hour before bed.
Some studies indicate that changes in allergy symptoms during low and high pollen seasons correlate with higher anxiety and depression scores. Allergies attack your immune system, and your body responds by pumping cytokines (proteins that signal inflammation to our cells) through the blood. So if you notice that your body starts experiencing allergy symptoms as soon as fall comes around, it’s likely that your mind will follow suit resulting in anxiety. If you find yourself dealing with both fall allergies and autumn anxiety, successfully treating your allergies may also help treat your anxiety.
Exercise is actually a great anxiety and depression remedy for most people. Unfortunately, in many areas of the country, the fall months come with much colder weather making it more difficult to enjoy the outside exercise we did during the summer months.
Even if you consider yourself more of a gym-rat than the outdoor type, getting to the gym in the fall can still be challenging because of more fall activities and hectic schedules.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states: “Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout.”
Another great indoor exercise is rebounding. Several of the many health benefits of rebounding are that it can be done inside, it’s a known stress reliever, and is awesome for lymphatic drainage which is very beneficial, especially during the flu and cold season. Remember that with autumn anxiety, you need the endorphins that daily exercise produces, now more than ever. The good news is that you don’t need to work out super hard to get them.
Stress and Worry About Impending Holiday Season
“Holidays are fraught for people. They’re not like Hallmark cards, so if you anticipate you are getting into the cooler months and the holidays are coming, and you’re not sure how you’ll deal with Thanksgiving, there can be a lot of stress — especially if you think you should be happy because it’s a celebration.” Patricia Thornton, PhD, licensed psychologist – New York City
We have one very long holiday season lasting from September thru December and many people begin dreading it in September. Unfortunately, those with autumn anxiety tend to exhibit more symptoms of holiday stress and anxiety than those without autumn anxiety. As an anxious person, you can effectively manage your autumn anxiety symptoms during the holiday season by knowing and respecting your limitations. I highly suggest using the word “No” more than usual.
Anxiety and stress tend to cause people to lose sleep. However, autumn anxiety tends to up this tendency. With darkness being more prominent during the autumn months, it’s sometimes difficult to change over to normal sleep habits. In fact, as summer’s light fades, it can be agitating and stressful to some. While the days seem shorter, the nights seem longer which messes with our circadian rhythm causing difficulty in getting a healthy amount of sleep.
How Can I Manage Autumn Anxiety Naturally?
Before that first cool snap, try to put together an autumn anxiety toolbox incorporating some of the recommendations below that you can use when the leaves begin to fall and your anxiety rises.
Nourish Your Body With Healthy Seasonal Foods
Take advantage of the autumn harvest by eating more fresh and whole foods such as squash, apples, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, greens, and cranberries. This is a wonderful time to explore comfort food creations. Also, since magnesium deficiency has shown some correlation with increased anxiety, this is a good time to up your intake of magnesium-rich foods such as nuts, leafy greens, and black beans. You may also want to include a good magnesium supplement in your health protocol for autumn anxiety. As much as possible, try to avoid or severely limit alcohol, refined sugar, gluten, and caffeinated beverages.
Focus on Gut Health
Research indicates that gut microbiota impacts brain chemistry and behavior. In fact, people who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and the associated cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation, usually experience depression and anxiety as well. Gut microbiota impacts serotonin and dopamine production. In fact, more than 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the gut. Serotonin is also an important regulator of gastrointestinal motility.
As mentioned above, implementing a fresh and whole foods diet is an excellent way to encourage a healthy gastrointestinal tract. A diet consisting of organic fruits and vegetables and some fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, are good, natural source of probiotics. You can also consider taking a high-strain probiotic supplement such as Floratrex™, which also contains prebiotics to help promote a friendly environment in your gut.
Practice Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing consists of deep and slow breathing that can help stimulates the vagus nerve. This nerve connects the brain stem with the abdomen, and it is part of the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for so-called “rest and digest” activities. For example, it causes the heart rate to decline when we exhale.
Use a Light Box
Clinical psychologist, Michael Brustein, PsyD, recommends light therapy for the symptoms associated with autumn anxiety. Using a therapeutic light box can help recoup for the decrease in sunlight we experience during the seasons of autumn and winter. Experts suggest sitting near a 10,000 lux light box for 20 to 30 minutes each morning.
Recognize the Importance of the Amygdala
The amygdala is one of two almond-shaped clusters of nuclei located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. The amygdala initiates the brain processes that create both fear and anxiety.
When the amygdala decides that you are facing a threat, it sends a signal — nerve impulses — to the hypothalamus – another part of the brain. The hypothalamus then activates the pituitary gland and the pituitary gland activates the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland secretes the stress hormones — adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol — that actually trigger fear and the fight or flight response.
The hormones that are released by the adrenal gland trigger a number of changes in your body that both make you feel afraid and trigger the fight or flight response. There is some exciting research that suggests it will soon be possible to actually train the amygdala to respond more to positive memories and respond less to negative memories using the technology of neurofeedback. In the meantime, check out the info below about meditation.
It’s easy to pick up the bad habit of gathering dramatic feelings and situations and holding onto them as if they were prized possessions. We feel we are entitled to our ownership of this anxiety, and we believe we must hold onto it in order to keep ourselves emotionally safe. It takes a little courage, but meditation can help us see and nurture our internal strength, so we can separate ourselves from drama and achieve relief from autumn anxiety.
Praying, reading scripture, listening to calming music, reading a up-lifting book, walking in nature, or just sitting quietly in a comfortable chair with eyes closed are great ways to practice meditation and calm anxiety. In the beginning just 15 minutes of mindful meditation can go a long way – go slow and pace yourself.
Organic Full-Spectrum Hemp Extract
The hemp plant is loaded with beneficial constituents known as cannabinoids that calm the mind and promote homeostasis (balance) throughout the body. Full-spectrum hemp extract works naturally with your endocannabinoid System (ECS), which is a very important and vast receptor system that helps balance body functions. The endocannabinoid system also helps promote a stable equilibrium which affects things like sleep, discomfort, memory and even mood. Look for a Full-Spectrum Hemp Extract containing less than 0.03 percent THC, which means it won’t produce the high effect associated with marijuana and contains little to no side effects.
According to a 2015 study, preclinical evidence conclusively demonstrated CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviors relevant to multiple disorders, including PTSD, GAD, PD, OCD, and SAD, with a notable lack of anxiogenic (causes anxiety) effects. Human experimental findings support preclinical findings, and also suggest a lack of anxiogenic effects, minimal sedative effects, and an excellent safety profile. Current preclinical and human findings mostly involve acute CBD dosing in healthy subjects, so further studies are required to establish whether chronic dosing of CBD has similar effects in relevant clinical populations.
Hemp extract also contains significant amounts of phytocannabinoids and terpenes which can have a positive impact on the neurological system which directly affects anxiety and depression.
Get Adequate Sleep
Getting restful sleep for at least 8 to 9 hours is crucial in maintaining a healthy state of mind and body. Choose a bedtime and stick to it to help your mind learn to shut down at a certain hour. You should also sleep with all lights off (or wear a sleep mask) and avoid any caffeinated food or drink for at least four hours before bed to promote REM sleep. REM sleep and lots of it allows your body to recharge during the night and gives your mind a much-deserved break.
Be Prepared – Make a To-Do List
Autumn is the beginning of a very busy holiday season. Many people indicate that making a holiday season to-do-list in September and sticking to the list greatly helps them to manage their stress levels. Rather than overthinking something, put it on your list and then cross if off when it’s done. There is something very cathartic about actually writing a list (not typing it) and then crossing list items on your holiday season to-do list. Give it a try.
Check Vitamin D and Magnesium Levels
Early September is a good time to get your vitamin D and magnesium levels checked. Your exposure to sunlight gradually diminishes after June 21. “Every tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system, which means vitamin D is needed at every level for the body to function,” writes James M. Greenblatt, MD, an integrative psychiatrist, in his Psychology Today blog. Research and studies link vitamin D deficiencies to depression and anxiety. That’s always the first hormone, yes it’s a hormone, to check if you tend to experience autumn anxiety.
Magnesium is known as the calming mineral that sustains and nurtures the central nervous system, helping to reduce anxiety, panic, and nervousness. A study published in Neuropharmacology found that a magnesium deficiency can cause anxiety and interferes with the functions of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), which is paramount to mood and stress regulation. Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and chard are excellent sources of magnesium. Nuts and seeds are also high in magnesium — especially sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds, and cashews — as well as beans and lentils. And dark chocolate (yum!) has a ton of magnesium — if you decide to partake, just make sure to consume small amounts.
An article from the Anxiety and Depression of America states that “regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting. One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time. While exercise may not work for everyone, researchers say that the beneficial effects of exercise on physical health are not in dispute, and people should be encouraged to stay physically active.”
Try to get in some exercise every day — a walk in nature if weather permits or a trip to the gym. I always recommend rebounding using a mini-trampoline. Rebounding, which can be done at home, is an excellent choice and doesn’t add stress to your body. Exercise releases neurotransmitters that improve mood, while at the same time burns away stress hormones and surplus energy. It’s very important that you’re exercising every day to help ease and control some of your anxiety.
The holidays can be overwhelming with social engagements — parties, children’s plays, hostessing family — all of which can make you want to hole up in your house. Yet, it’s important to spend time with the people that make us laugh, love us and lift us up when we are dealing with issues such as autumn anxiety. While autumn anxiety is very real, learning how to prepare for and manage it can give you more enjoyment, calm, and peace during the busiest season of the year.
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