I understand autumn anxiety and depression on a molecular level. I grew up in an East Coast tourist town, where the end of summer meant the boardwalk arcades closed and almost everyone drove away. We talked endless shit about the “shoobies”—our word for clueless summer visitors from Philly and North Jersey who could neither surf nor skate—but after Labor Day, when two-thirds of the houses in town lay empty and they turned off the traffic lights (who needs them when there was no traffic?), I actually missed those annoying tourists. Fall is when school starts and the ferris wheels stop. It’s when you can’t swim because the ocean is too cold and the lifeguards are gone. It’s when the fun ends and everything dies.
Even though I’ve become a shoobie myself, and I live in Los Angeles, where everything is dead already and even the seasons don’t change, this time of year is still difficult. It’s not really connected with anything for me—just a disquieting sense of things endings. Can you relate?
As this New York Times article points out, this year’s end-of-summer is particularly difficult because this is the first semi-normal summer many of us have experienced in years. I’ll add that, given how chaotic things have been recently, it could be the last semi-normal summer we ever enjoy (sorry to be depressing; it’s that time of year). If you’re feeling fall anxiety, too, at least you can take comfort that you’re not alone, and in the fact that it will pass. Here are some tips on how to make it pass as easily as possible.
Give yourself a break
One of the best ways you can get over minor disturbances in “the force” of your life is to recognize what’s going on, and honor your own emotions. Yes, other people have things worse, but this is still important to you. Then apply the “treat yourself like you’d treat your friend” rule.
If a loved one told you, “I always get down around this time of year,” you probably wouldn’t respond, “You’re being stupid” (I hope). But that’s how we talk to ourselves much of the time. Instead, acknowledge your emotions and treat yourself a little more nicely. People who practice self-compassion are more likely to report a higher sense of overall well-being than those who don’t, after all.
Learn from your end-of-summer-blues—or don’t
The conventional wisdom in psychological circles (at least according to the experts quoted in the Times) is to learn from our feelings, to ask ourselves what our anxiety around the change in seasons can tell us. “It’s information about what we really value and want in our life,” Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, a psychologist and the director of the emotion regulation lab at Hunter College in New York City, told the Times.
Maybe you’re feeling sad and anxious at the end of summer because you’re a parent who hasn’t organized the going-back-to-school business of car pools and class schedules and figured out exactly how it’s all going to work. This is a good time to work out the logistics. Maybe the end of your vacation is freaking you out because you need to find a job you don’t dread going back to?
If your emotions are pointing to a practical problem you can solve, good for you. But if they aren’t, that’s OK too. After many years of ascribing black moods to specific events in my life, I gradually came to realize that it wasn’t stress or my relationship or my job causing psychological discomfort. It was, basically, nothing. Or something unknowable—errant chemicals in my brain maybe, or the capriciousness of the Gods. For me—and your mileage may vary— ruminating on why I was depressed, and what I could do about it, was fruitless. There was never answer, so instead, I just think, “Yeah, I get this way around September,” and leave it at that. (The pharmaceuticals help, too.)
Your own personal Halloween is coming
Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, maybe only because of when it falls—a dose of jocular, fake horror at the time of year I find most horrific is comforting. But it might be Christmas for you, or Thanksgiving, or football season starting, or maybe you actually like “pumpkin spice.” It doesn’t matter. Looking forward to something helps keep the larger picture in mind, and is a reminder of that ancient advice attributed to King Solomon: “this too shall pass.”
All the usual advice applies
Whether your anxiety and sadness are connected with the end of summer or not, there are positive steps you can take to get things back on track. You probably already know what they are, but just to reinforce:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Spend time outdoors (fall is perfect for hikes and bikes)
- Don’t doom-scroll
- Spend time with friends and family
- Seek professional help if you think a negative spell could be something more serious.
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