You probably felt bummed out at the end of summer when you had to return to school as a kid, and the feeling can be similar as an adult when you’re trading carefree days for packed schedules and a faster work pace. The change in seasons and schedules could cause you to develop a case of the “September blues” or “autumn anxiety” if you don’t get a handle on stressors that can crop up.
Experiencing stress due to a hectic fall schedule can be a pretty common problem, and Welsh therapist, Gillian Scully, coined the phrase “autumn anxiety” to describe the anxious symptoms she was noticing in patients at the end of summer and early September. According to the American Psychological Association, those feelings of stress or anxiety can manifest into a number of symptoms, including loss of appetite, fatigue, mood swings, illnesses, and difficulty falling or staying asleep.
“September is one of my busiest months of the year because summer was the time to be outdoors, have fun and go on vacation,” says Connie Habash, LMFT, author of Awakening from Anxiety: A Spiritual Guide to Living a More Calm, Confident, and Courageous Life. “Then September comes with this back-to-school mindset, like . . . it’s time to get more serious.”
Your September stress could be due to a number of factors—from busy back-to-school activities and packed schedules for parents, being aware of the holiday season around the corner and end-of-year deadlines barreling down the pike, being sensitive to the change in seasons or feeling anxiety about darker days and cold weather on the horizon.
Keep reading to find out how autumn blues can impact your health, and what to do to help combat these stressors.
Here’s why you might get stressed at the end of summer (and how to handle it):
Cause: Your kids are back in school. Although this might be called “the most wonderful time of the year” for parents according to back-to-school commercials, adjusting to your child’s new school schedule, packing lunches, setting up childcare arrangements, keeping track of after-school activities and checking homework is enough to make any parent’s head spin.
How to handle it: Find pockets of time where you can use fall as a reflective season. Start a meditation routine after the kids go to school or practice stress-reducing habits during their activities, such as taking a walk around the field where they’re playing soccer or phoning a friend to chat. These practices can help you feel calmer. Consider finding a therapist or booking an online therapy session through an app to help you navigate this busy time of year.
Cause: Your company is ramping up projects. Different industries have various “busy seasons”, but after what seems like a slower summer pace for various reasons, the end of August and September tend to pick up speed in many workplaces in America.
“When September rolls around, I think there’s this awareness in a lot of corporations that we really only have a good two and a half months to be productive,” says Habash. Then the holidays roll in and things slow down because people are out of town. “There’s this extra pressure once Labor Day is over like, ‘We’ve got to hit the ground running,’ and that can be very stressful for people.”
How to handle it: Practice mindful moments throughout the day. “The number-one thing I recommend is a practice known as presence; it’s related to mindfulness,” says Habash. “I define presence as awareness and attention in the present moment, with an open heart and a quiet mind.” Train your attention and awareness to shift away from all the thoughts spinning in your head into what is here and now. “To get present, sit quietly at your desk, closing your eyes for a few moments and think, ‘I feel my legs on the chair, I feel my feet on the floor, I’m noticing my breath, my inhalations and exhalations,’” suggests Habash.
You can do this with the Relax app on your Fitbit tracker or smartwatch* throughout the day, particularly before stressful meetings and when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed. You could also go for a brief walk outside and find a park or green space: Research finds it can boost your mood.
Cause: You hate the shorter, darker days ahead. There are still a few weeks to go before we have to “fall back” and lose an hour of daylight, but for many of us, nothing signals the end of summer like darkness creeping in earlier each day. The link between darker days and your souring mood isn’t just in your head; the lack of sunlight and vitamin D intake has been associated with depression and other mental disorders.
How to handle it: Exercise outside before work or during your lunch break when the sun is out, or in a brightly lit room if possible. Research finds that exercise and light therapy are treatments for depression, and combining the two packs a one-two punch with mood-boosting benefits. You may also want to use a light therapy box in the morning, evening or during your workday. It can help positively boost brain chemicals associated with mood and sleep.
For any autumn anxiety problem, Habash suggests making time throughout the day to notice things you are grateful for. According to the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, studies find that people who consciously note things in their life to be thankful for tend to be less depressed and happier overall. You can also set a silent alarm on your Fitbit device for a “gratitude moment”—a time when you’ll pause and be appreciative of something good in your life. “A gratitude practice can help alleviate depression and sometimes calm anxiety,” says Habash.
You could take back control by spinning your stressors into grateful statements, like:
- I’m grateful that my children are healthy enough to go to school and play sports.
- I’m grateful I have a job.
- I’m grateful that I’m healthy enough to exercise.
- I’m grateful for the upcoming winter holidays and family traditions they bring.
What are your tips for finding healthy ways to handle the September blues?
*Available on Versa 2, Versa Lite Edition, Ionic, Charge 3, and Inspire HR devices only.