Autumn is a time of changing colors and diminishing sunlight. For many people, it can also bring a change in mood. If you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP) like me, then you may be especially prone to something called “autumn anxiety”.
According to psychologist Dr. Therese Mascardo, “Autumn anxiety can be experienced as feeling overwhelmed, tense, or worried, while possibly feeling physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, stomach aches, and trouble sleeping,”
The term autumn anxiety was coined by Welsh therapist Ginny Scully in 2005. Scully noticed that many of her patients were experiencing similar feelings of anxiety in the weeks when summer ended and fall began.
Highly sensitive persons are especially susceptible to autumn anxiety because we are sensitive to shifts in our environment.
“It seems that people who are already quite sensitive and aware of their surroundings have been experiencing these feelings,” explains Dr. Scully.
Autumn is a time of massive shifts. Aside from the change in weather, our daily routine can also drastically change in the fall.
Many of us are navigating more work, less time outdoors, a decrease in sunlight, and less exercise.
Introverts may also already be dreading the holidays, which are often a time of great anxiety and overwhelm for quiet sensitive types.
So, if you’re feeling an overall sense of anxiety with no obvious cause, don’t be too hard on yourself. Your sensitive nervous system is attempting to process a lot of changes.
Luckily, there are many simple and proven ways to deal with autumn anxiety.
How to deal with autumn anxiety
Out with the old, in with the new
Thanks to Marie Kondo, most of us are aware of the value of getting rid of old possessions that no longer “spark joy”. But when was the last time you decluttered your thoughts?
Negative self-talk and repetitive worries are potent fuel for autumn anxiety. Though ending anxious thoughts may seem impossible—especially if you’re an introverted overthinker—there is a shortcut to tidying up your mental landscapes.
Because of something called “cognitive dissonance”, the human brain struggles to hold two conflicting thoughts at once.
Crowd out the negative thoughts with more constructive ones with daily gratitude lists, guided meditations, and affirmations.
Process, process, process
Have you ever felt a knot in your stomach, but you weren’t sure why? Often, we have no idea where the anxiety stems from.
If we take a moment to turn inwards, we realize that our unprocessed emotions are trying to get our attention.
Sadness, Loneliness, Worry, and Fear have gotten together to have a noisy house party. They tried to invite you, but you were too busy distracting yourself with mini chocolate bars and online shopping.
The best way to turn down the noise and prevent these emotions from turning you into an anxious mess is to have a friendly sit-down with them.
Create space for your feelings to be present without judgment. The more we criticize and judge our emotions, the more they go underground and come out in destructive ways, like self-sabotage.
Release your feelings through tears and sappy journal entries. Or talk about your feelings with a trusted friend or therapist.
If you’re an HSP introvert like me, you know that every drop of energy is precious. Pretending takes a whole lot of energy.
Stop acting like everything is ok and you have it all together. While it’s not safe to share your insecurities with just anyone, you don’t have to hide your humanness either.
Relax, let your shoulders drop, and take a deep breath. As you exhale, release the need to be perfect. How about you just BE for a while.
Dousing your anxiety with caffeine is a great way to start a wildfire of worry and overwhelm.
Caffeine and refined sugar can be especially anxiety-inducing for HSPs who tend to be more sensitive to stimulants.
Keep autumn anxiety under control by avoiding or reducing caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.
Amp up your self-care
You may already have self-care routines in place. Now is the time to update them. Here are some healthy habits that will help you deal with autumn anxiety:
- Minimize scrolling – Create screen time boundaries and stick to them. For example, put your phone in airplane mode two hours before bedtime, and don’t deactivate it until you’ve gone through your morning rituals the next day.
- Avoid too many obligations – Introverts tend to get overwhelmed by too many responsibilities. Avoid the temptation to channel your anxiety into busyness. Instead, focus on balancing alone time with social activities you truly enjoy.
- Flow it out – Flow activities that put you in that sweet spot of concentration, such as writing, cooking, rock climbing, and photography, help calm an anxious mind. Add some flow to your daily routine to keep autumn anxiety at bay.
- Be a consistent sleeper – We all know sleep is important. But have you really committed to getting the right amount of shuteye at the right time? Naps can throw off your circadian rhythms, so it’s best to stick to a consistent sleep schedule.
- Take a mini-break – With the end of summer you might feel like you have nothing to look forward to. Treat yourself to a little long weekend vacation or a day trip somewhere just outside the city.
- Talk to someone – Introverts tend to isolate when we’re feeling overwhelmed, which can exacerbate autumn anxiety. Reach out to a friend, therapist, or online support group.
Simply recognizing that you’re not alone can help alleviate your autumn anxiety. Know that many other people are experiencing the same frustrating feelings as you. We’re all in this together (but six feet apart, of course)!
Thankfully, seasons come and go, and fall is one of the shortest ones. As Jon Snow would say, “winter is coming”—and that might actually be a good thing for HSPs and introverts.
We can look forward to the opportunity to get cozy and enjoy a little introvert hibernation.
Over to you
I’d love to hear your experiences with autumn anxiety. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! And while you’re here, remember to grab my free Introvert Connection Guide.