By Sara Lindberg

Many of us look forward to the seasonal shift from summer to fall. The leaves become vibrant, the crisp air reminds us that the holidays are near, and we find comfort in cozy activities.

But for the millions of people who deal with anxiety (and even those who don’t), fall also triggers overwhelming feelings of worry, nervousness, restlessness, and panic.

As we turn our attention away from the long, leisurely days of summer to the busy hustle of work and school schedules, many people experience stress and anxiety.

If you’re noticing a shift in how you’re feeling right now, you may be affected by autumn anxiety.

What’s autumn anxiety?

You may be wondering why you’re experiencing an increase in anxiety, especially if an anxiety disorder isn’t typically part of your life.

But that’s the thing with these shifts in seasons — anyone can be hit with feelings of nervousness and worry. The first month of fall is difficult for many of us.

While not technically a diagnosis, many people experience autumn anxiety.

“It’s associated with stress, nervousness, dread, trouble sleeping, and panic — but it’s tied to the shift from summer to fall,” explains Mike Dow, PsyD, PhD, author of “Think, Act & Be Happy.”

Dow says that autumn anxiety is caused by the anticipation of moving from summer to fall.

Summer, as we all know, is commonly associated with fun, travel, and time off. For many of us, fall means more responsibility, including spending longer hours at work.

“The main symptom of autumn anxiety is a feeling of anticipation — even if you don’t know what exactly you’re anticipating,” says Dow.

“This is caused by the transition to fall, which the brain associates with work and preparing itself for it,” he adds.

Dow also explains that the decreased duration of daylight and colder weather may impact people’s activity level and consequently their mood as they spend less time with friends or outdoors.

“In my practice, I notice an uptick in calls and former patients coming back for continued therapy work during the autumn months,” he says.

Autumn anxiety symptoms to watch out for include:

  • worry
  • muscle tension
  • rumination
  • panic attacks
  • digestive issues
  • trouble sleeping

If you think you’re experiencing autumn anxiety, here’s how to cope with your symptoms:

7-step checklist for beating autumn anxiety

1. Walk outside during lunch

Dow says exposure to light is vital.

Find time in your day to take a walk or jog outside to soak in the light. The combination of exercise and light does wonders for your mood.

Even sitting by the window for 15 to 30 minutes each day can help increase your exposure to light and lessen the impacts of seasonal change.

2. Add more salmon and walnuts into your diet

Sure, comfort foods like pizza and pasta are going to sound really yummy on those colder nights, but Dow says fall is time for more omega-3’s.

“They’ve been shown to help reduce anxiety,” he explains.

Include wild salmon, rainbow trout, walnuts, or other foods that are high in omega-3s into your diet. Research has even shown that a fish oil supplement can help.

3. Fill up your calendar with hobbies and friend dates

Summer’s filled with parties, travel, and meeting new people. So when the cold weather and short days hit and suddenly you’re not connecting with friends as often, the change can feel drastic.

That’s why Dow cautions against spending the fall months sitting on the couch binge-watching TV.

Fill your calendar with yoga dates, hobbies that involve other people, and get-togethers with friends.

4. Use a light therapy lamp

Clinical psychologist, Michael Brustein, PsyD, recommends light therapy for the symptoms associated with autumn anxiety.

Using a light box specifically made to be therapeutic can help compensate for the decrease in sunlight we experience during this time of the year. Experts recommend sitting near a 10,000 lux lightbox for 20 to 30 minutes each morning.

5. Take 10 minutes to pay attention to your five senses

Dow recommends doing a 10-minute mindfulness meditation each day to soothe your mind.

“Take a mindful walk as you pay attention to your five senses,” he says. Brustein echoes Dow’s recommendation and says the key is not only to start a mindfulness practice, but to use these mindfulness skills when feeling anxious.

6. Pay attention to your thoughts

Brustein says we need to monitor irrational thoughts of worry that lead to anxiety and replace them with more rational logical and realistic thinking.

For example, if you’re experiencing an overwhelming feeling of worry about your “to-do” list, you might be telling yourself, “there’s no way I’m ever going to get this all done.” This can commonly lead to feelings of failure and anxiety about not staying on top of things.

Instead, consider what you can realistically get done today, or even in the next hour. This helps to interrupt the all-or-nothing thinking that comes with anxiety.

7. Consider therapy

If managing the symptoms that come with autumn anxiety are too difficult to do on your own, you may want to consider seeking professional help. A great place to start is with a psychologist that specializes in anxiety disorders.

Most importantly, understand that you’re not alone. Reaching out to a friend, family member, or professional for support will help you learn ways to manage and beat the worry and anxiety that arises during fall.

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Sara Lindberg, BS, MEd, is a freelance health and fitness writer. She holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in counseling. She’s spent her life educating people on the importance of health, wellness, mindset, and mental health. She specializes in the mind-body connection, with a focus on how our mental and emotional well-being impact our physical fitness and health.

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