Autumn Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

There are many great things about fall: sweater weather, pumpkin everything, the beautiful falling leaves … But have you ever felt like you’re more anxious during the autumn? Autumn anxiety occurs, as the name suggests, when people experience increased anxiety symptoms during the fall months.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about autumn anxiety and its causes, symptoms, and treatment.

How to explain anxiety in the autumn? Possible causes

You may not know how to explain anxiety to others and how it’s connected to the calendar, but rest assured — you’re not alone in this. Autumn anxiety isn’t a recognized mental health condition; instead, it’s a form of a disorder called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that’s linked to the passing of the seasons, and it’s more prevalent during the colder months.

It’s also possible for you to experience a worsening of the symptoms of a pre-existing mental health condition, such as depression, during the fall and winter months. Research has found evidence of a link between the colder months and mood disorders, symptoms of anxiety, and even suicidal ideations. Fortunately, identifying these thoughts and emotions is the first step in taking the necessary measures to help you feel better.

A man with autumn leaves experiencing morning anxiety

Anxiety is different for everyone and it can have a variety of triggers, but some of the factors that could explain anxiety in the autumn include:

  • Anxiety due to the start of a new school year
  • Less sunlight exposure
  • Worrying about the end of the year and unmet goals
  • Regret over not accomplishing summer goals
  • Dislike of having to wake up earlier
  • Dreading the colder weather
  • Feeling stress about the upcoming holiday season

Symptoms of autumn anxiety

Anxiety can manifest itself through different symptoms that can vary from one person to the next. Some of the most common emotional symptoms of autumn anxiety include:

  • Sad or depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive worrying
  • Loss of interest in and/or enjoyment of your daily routine

Does anxiety make you tired?

If you’re waking up with anxiety or feeling anxious throughout the day, it’s no wonder that you’re also feeling extra tired during autumn. Anxiety can disrupt your sleeping patterns and cause vivid, stressful dreams.

Feeling anxiety in the morning can make it even more difficult for you to focus on your daily routine, which is why morning anxiety can also contribute to a cycle of anxious feelings during the day and poor sleep at night.

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Since anxiety can make you tired, it’s important to maintain good sleep hygiene habits, such as:

  • Avoid screens that emit blue light (phone, tablet, TV, etcetera) at least 2 hours before bed.
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule every day (even during the weekends, if possible).
  • Avoid taking naps during the day.
  • If you can’t fall asleep within 10–15 minutes of going to bed, get up and do something to distract yourself until you feel sleepy again.
  • Create a cool, dark, and quiet environment in your room to promote sleep.

Can autumn anxiety cause nausea?

Autumn anxiety can indeed cause nausea, among other physical manifestations. In addition to mood and emotional changes, anxiety can cause a wide range of physical symptoms. Some of the physical manifestations of anxiety can include:

  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations or tachycardia
  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Appetite changes
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trembling
  • Muscular tension
  • Headaches

Are your autumn anxiety and high blood pressure connected?

Anxiety and high blood pressure can feed off each other. Because your body releases cortisol (also called “the stress hormone”) and other hormones when you’re anxious, your blood pressure could also increase due to anxiety. Anxiety isn’t going to cause high blood pressure on its own, but it can cause temporary bouts of hypertension or worsen pre-existing cases of this disease.

Autumn anxiety prevention and treatment

1. Sunlight

Sunlight is incredibly important to maintain our health, but it can become difficult to get enough sun during the fall and winter months. Sunlight helps our body produce vitamin D, and hormones such as serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin is a hormone that plays a vital role in stabilizing our mood, feelings of well-being and calmness, and happiness.

Low serotonin levels can put you at risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Melatonin, on the other hand, is one of the hormones that regulates our sleeping patterns. Its production is closely tied to our exposure to light and darkness during the day, and disruption of these cycles can lead to poor sleep.

It’s recommended that you spend at least 15 to 30 minutes in the sun, three times a week. If this isn’t possible due to the weather, try moving your desk or chair next to a window so you can catch more sunlight during colder days. During fall, this could also mean waking up earlier so you can take advantage of the daylight.

2. Exercise

In addition to getting less sunlight during the autumn months, you’re also more likely to spend less time outdoors and reduce your physical activity once the temperature starts to drop.

Depending on the temperature, there are many outdoor activities that you could do to combine the benefits of exercise and sunlight, such as:

  • Hiking
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Biking

If the weather doesn’t allow you to work out outside, it’s still important to get your body moving — even if you’re indoors. Indoor workout ideas include:

  • Online workout routines
  • Skipping rope
  • Yoga
  • Stationary biking
  • Going to the gym
A smiling woman in a field without anxiety symptoms

3. New experiences

Autumn is the perfect time to start fresh. It’s time for a new school year, the weather cools, and you can start planning your goals for next year. So if you’re feeling a little bit gloomy when autumn starts, starting a new routine could help lift your mood.

  • Declutter your house.
  • Start a journal.
  • Take up a new hobby.
  • Try to learn a new language or skill.
  • Read more books.
  • Enroll in a class of something you enjoy.

4. A diet change

Food is medicine for the body, and there are different changes that you can make to your diet to help boost your mood during the autumn. Dietary changes can help supplement any deficiencies that are caused by the colder weather and decreased sunlight.

Include foods high in vitamin D to help attenuate the effects of getting less sunlight in fall. Foods that contain vitamin D include:

  • Milk
  • Soy milk
  • Fatty fish
  • Red meat
  • Mushrooms
  • Egg yolks
  • Oats
  • Fortified orange juice

You can also try to consume more foods that contain tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. Tryptophan-rich foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Pineapples
  • Plums
  • Turkey
  • Milk

The fall is also a good season to cook meals that simply make you feel good. Few things are as uplifting as a nice warm soup, hot chocolate, or a pie filled with your favorite seasonal produce. Eating the things you like the most, combined with regular exercise, can help you stay happy and healthy during the autumn and winter months.

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5. Professional help

If you feel overwhelmed with autumn anxiety, it’s important to consider seeking professional help. Although lifestyle changes can help you feel better, some cases of autumn anxiety and depression are more severe and require professional assistance. And although autumn anxiety isn’t a recognized mental health disorder, that doesn’t mean that your therapist can’t help you during this time. On the contrary, they could help you discover the cause of your feelings and provide strategies to overcome them, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Your therapist could also identify whether you’re truly just suffering from a bout of autumn depression, or if there’s an underlying condition affecting you.

In some cases, your therapist could refer you to a psychiatrist so you can start antidepressants or other medications to improve your symptoms.

A visit to your primary care physician could also be helpful. Your doctor could help you choose better foods, lifestyle habits, and even supplements to keep your body and mind healthy during the autumn and winter. They could also order some lab tests to check your hormonal and vitamin levels and identify any deficiencies that could worsen your anxiety symptoms.

Is there an over-the-counter medicine for anxiety?

There are no over-the-counter medicines for anxiety and stress, and it’s important to avoid self-medication when it comes to these matters. Self-medicating and self-diagnosing any health issues can lead to health complications later on. Instead, seek medical assistance from a healthcare professional if you’re concerned about your autumn anxiety.

It can be very worrying to feel like your anxiety or mood are getting worse once the fall season starts. However, it’s important to remember that there are many things you can do to relieve these feelings — from getting more sunlight to seeking support from your loved ones — to make sure you can enjoy the colder months. Despite the fact that the seasons can have a significant effect on your mood, these strategies can make it easier for you to manage your anxiety throughout the year.

November 2, 2022