Over the past few weeks, subtle changes have begun to occur. The sun is setting a bit earlier, store shelves have already been picked clean of notebooks and pens, and (shudder) Halloween displays have begun to appear. If you experience changes in mood and increased anxiety around this time of year, you’re not alone! Approximately 10 million people in the United States struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, a type of depression that typically occurs during the fall and winter months. Check out one of my earlier blog posts here to learn more about how to cope with symptoms of SAD. Even those who don’t have any particular diagnosis may find it more difficult to manage when the days become shorter and the air begins to chill. Read on to discover 5 ways that the change of seasons may impact you, and how to make small changes to smooth the road into fall!
1. The transition from summer to autumn usually comes with an abrupt schedule change: Perhaps you spent the summer enjoying long weekends, beginning with summer Fridays off. Maybe the office has been slower, with more people on vacation. The kids have been at summer camp, and now that they’re home; everyone is staying up later and sleeping in more. Then all of a sudden, on the Tuesday after Labor Day, we’re expected to snap back into our schedules like a well-trained battalion on the march. It’s not a coincidence that you may notice feeling down, cranky, and anxious when making this abrupt transition. Try making some subtle changes to your schedule over the next couple of weeks so that you can ease yourself back into the demands of autumn. Start getting yourself and your children on a regular sleep/wake schedule, and organize your work and school schedules. Making small changes now will save you a lot of aggravation when the alarm goes off at 6:00am on Tuesday the 5th.
2. The change in season might be associated with stressful memories: Most of us spent at least 13 years (if not more) engaged in formal education. With that comes a schedule that, over time, has become cemented in our collective consciousness. Even if you’re no longer in school, we have a sense that the end of summer means the death of fun, and the beginning of increased obligations and more stress. It’s time to change the negative associations we’ve made with the change in season. Take a look at some of the things that you enjoy about the fall, and make the time to do them on a regular basis. Giving yourself things to look forward to can go a long way toward changing the way you feel about fall!
3. You might focus on the summer time that you’re losing and when you can have it again, rather than being in the moment: For those of you who read my posts regularly, you’ve probably noticed that I write a lot about mindfulness. When the seasons change, it’s natural to begin to mourn the more carefree days of summer, and simply spend the fall and winter anticipating when we are going to be able to experience that joy again. We spend our lives hoping to fast forward to the next summer, and often miss the fun that awaits us during the colder months. Practicing mindfulness can help you to maintain your focus on the present, rather than wishing it away.
4. Work and family obligations tend to increase: One day you’re drinking a mojito on the patio, and the next day you receive 20 emails from your child’s school about bake sales, book sales, fundraisers, and special dress days. All the higher-ups at work have returned from vacation with a new sense of purpose, which generally involves giving you a lot more work to do. Let’s also not forget about the holiday landslide, starting with the Jewish New Year in September, and culminating on New Years Day in January. In our ever-expanding, multicultural and multi-religious society, its likely that you may be obliged to celebrate a good many of the holidays that occur in between. Maybe you’re someone who thrives in a world of constant social obligations, but if the thought of one holiday after another has you cringing in a corner, it’s time to learn to assertively decline invitations. Take stock of what you are able to realistically participate in while maintaining healthy balance (which is different for everyone). Learn to communicate assertively to keep yourself from filling your proverbial plate with more than you can realistically eat!
5. It reminds us of the passing of time: In many cultures, just as spring represents renewal and the ongoing nature of the life cycle, fall represents things coming to a close. It’s a time when folks often take stock of where they are in their lives, and where they would like to be. If the passage of time is a painful reminder of where you’re not, it’s time to take steps to change. Have you always wanted to go back to school? Learn to paint? Date more? Check out this past post about making change , because it’s never too late to take the first step.
If you find that your struggles with the change in season last for more than a couple of weeks, and/or interfere in your ability to meet demands at home, work, and/or school, it may be time for a professional evaluation. Click here if you’re wondering if you could benefit from professional therapy.
Dr. Scrivani specializes in the Cognitive Behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders, behavioral parent training, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York, Florida, and internationally. Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected] to set up a free consultation. Visit my website for more information.