Autumn Anxiety: 6 All-Natural Ways to Ease into Fall
After an early rise, a quick run through of my morning routine and taking care of tiny house chores of the composting toilet and grey water from the kitchen sink, I’m sitting on the couch watching the golden sun rise through the cedar trees. Noticing it’s here. Fall is here.
The air feels different. The summer heat has transformed to a cool breeze and the wind likes to blow more often from the east. The crickets, grasshoppers, black flies, mosquitoes (most of them anyway ;) and dragon flies have faded away to only a few song birds including chickadees chatting in the willows.
There’s a stillness, a quietness that causes me to stop and listen. In many ways it’s comforting knowing nature and the world is always changing but historically, this time of year has brought on anxiety that has me thinking, “Ok, here it comes.”
What is anxiety?
According to Mayo Clinic, anxiety is an "intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and feeling tired can occur." Although anxiety, fear, worry and nerves are normal, it's when "feelings become excessive, all-consuming, and interfere with daily living" that can become disruptive to your health.
Where can anxiety show up?
Anxiety can show up in a dip in your mood (restless or tense), challenges waking up, taking on simple tasks that easily feel overwhelming, racing thoughts, not being able to sleep/feeling weak, chest tightness, trouble concentrating and motivation moving the body.
You could also be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which is a type of seasonal depression. I'm a big fan of not getting to caught up in the naming but more in tune with naming the feelings and being clear on how it effects you.
My experience with anxiety
I first noticed anxiety in college, the years where I first ventured off on my own to figure out how I wanted to start living my life. It showed up in Meteorology classes, struggling to keep my C average grades (math and my brain don’t get along naturally), making enough side money for food, rent, and travel and being exposed to a way of life I didn't know existed; living, learning and exploring outdoors.
I learned first hand about experiential education on a semester long fields program traveling 10,000 miles across the US in a 2 vans with 10 other students and 2 NOLS trained instructors/professors learning how to become an outdoor leader and educator. This is what flipped my world upside down. “You can get paid to go camping with people? Why didn’t anyone tell me this earlier?!” I was smitten.
Becoming a weather forecaster/storm chaser quickly took a back seat in “what I wanted to be when I grow up.” Leading wilderness trips instantly filled my heart and soul to the brim.
The anxiety manifested when I returned to college campus from living on the road. Having a taste of freedom, it was challenging to have two more semesters of tough meteorology classes and being back in an indoor classroom with the windows and blinds shut. All I wanted to do was be outside, where I felt like me, but I was determined to finish what I started.
That’s when anxiety bubbled to the surface.
Literally, my facial acne practically exploded on my face, my joint and knee pain had peaked, my hormonal cycle was whack, skipping 1-3 months at a time, my mood really dipped and I started to shut myself in. All in the season of fall.
Ever since then, I’ve had flares of anxiety (and moments with depression) that pop up every autumn. More times than not, I’ve tried to plow my way through (to get it over with as fast as possible) with traveling somewhere warm, working intensely or overeating to stuff down the emotion. Being the “you can’t keep me down” person that I am, I take on each fall now as a challenge, an opportunity to get better at balancing my emotions, physical health, environment and mindset to ease the anxiety.
Over the years, I started discovering what I can do to help myself. I'm grateful to share these with you in this blog in hopes that might help you, too.
What helped my anxiety that might help you…
Recognize how anxiety gets triggered for you
State the facts. Get curious and face your fears. Do your best to answer these questions. When does anxiety pop up for you? What does it feel like? When do you first remember the feeling? Where does it happen most often? Who are you with? Time of day? Time of year? What's going on at work? What's going on in your close relationships? Where are you living? What's happening in the world? How and where does it show up in your physical body?
Remember, anxiety is not happening to you but for you. Invite it in as a way your body is talking to you. Get uncomfortable and listen up, take notes, voice record your thoughts and answers. Thank your body for getting your attention and choose to be in collaboration with some solutions and remedies.
Talk about your anxiety
I’m using my own platform to do this right now. We must talk about the dark corners of our minds and the ways our bodies revolt against our current habits and environment. When you keep it in, stay quiet and suffer on your own, thinking you’re the only one who feels this way, it grabs a hold and takes you down further.
If you are reading this and you experience any level of anxiety, mood dips or depression - SAY SOMETHING. Starting talking about it in your friend circles (I personally love that I’ve started doing this one) and start to normalize the group struggle. Schedule a chat with a therapist, health coach or spiritual guide - someone who can hold space for you when its hard and scary to be vulnerable. The scariest part is breaking the silence. You got this. You'll have a small sense of relief on the other side and it will get bigger the more you speak up.
Make a plan and take action daily
Personally, I dial in on staying active, limit overworking and adding in a soothing, fun activity to bring in laughter and joy. Also, planning a short trip mid fall can lift your spirits. Next week I fly to Chicago to visit family for a week and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to "break up" my fall. The last couple seasons, I've driven west and south to ditch midwest falls but this year I'm holding my ground and facing some fears.
Try this: Pull out your calendar and mark each week a social gathering, meeting with a professional and getting outside up to the end of November. Then mark 2 sets of dates for a local or regional trip to get out of the house. Next, makes some phone calls or send texts to those who you'd like to be involved in fine tuning logistics. MAKE IT HAPPEN in the next two weeks before anxiety takes a bigger hold.
Create uplifting social outlets
Depending on your tendencies when anxiety comes up, getting out the door to be in social settings can be a tall order. BUT it will make a big difference. Hear me out, we are naturally social creatures and we thrive best together, but I get it, when something is off it can feel like an energy drain to socialize. You feel out of place, self conscious and just want to be in your shell. That’s why I like having a weekly gathering with friends that are already on the calendar; like cooking a meal together, movie night, walks, gym meetups, or dance parties.
Let nature absorb the struggle
When you get lost and sucked into your own story, the weight of existing can get heavy and draining. It’s imperative you have a place where that can be absolved because truly it's not all yours to manage. For me, that place is nature. Hiking through the forest, sitting by a creek, jumping in Lake Superior, walking in the rain, going for bike ride to smile at the fall colors. These experience are incredibly healing.
When you’re out, imagine your worries, doubts and frustrations being absorbed into the ground, washed away by the water and carried on by the wind. Let the earth hold you so you can unpack your baggage and return home feeling lighter, clear headed and grateful for the support.
Sleep it off
Anxiety can become heightened before bed, during the night or in the early morning hours. So the idea of “just sleep it off” may not be as easy as it sounds. I get it. My anxiety pops up early morning hours but I’ve noticed it subsides it I have a really good novel that I read the night before. So not only am I recommending to prioritize sleep (best to be in bed and asleep by 10pm) but get a good novel to whisk your mind off to another world, storyline and set of characters. It’s helpful to take a break from your own cycles of thought. TV shows and movies do this too but I personally love a book or kindle before bed because it removes bright screens from your eyes that don’t mess with your circadian clock.
Create a cozy sleeping space, make a warm drink, burn incense or smell an essential oil and enjoy a good novel. Sleep is your best offensive to remedy anxiety.
There are so many other things to try. I haven't even talked about food yet! For more tips on transitioning into fall, check out my free digital download: Fall Lifestyle Guide