How to Cope With Fall Anxiety

As August approaches its halfway point, I feel a duo of uncomfortable feelings: sadness that summer is almost over and fear of soon being faced with a packed fall schedule. I’m rarely ready for the annual transition to pumpkin spice lattes and cooler weather, but this year the switch feels particularly unwelcome — perhaps because this has been the first reasonably normal summer in more than two years, and I’m not ready for it End.

Luckily, there are steps we can take to deal with the feelings of summer’s end with grace and even use them to our advantage. Here’s what I learned after interviewing three psychologists experienced in dealing with difficult emotions.

When you’re feeling down, one of the most helpful things you can do is treat yourself with kindness. “It’s good to say, ‘OK, this is usually a difficult time of the year for me. I will be patient with myself. I’ll do my best,'” said Joy Harden Bradford, a psychologist in Atlanta. Research has found that people who show compassion for themselves—for example, by treating themselves as they would their friends—feel less anxious in challenging situations and report greater overall well-being.

Susan David, a Massachusetts psychologist and author of the book Emotional Agility, often hears people say that they shouldn’t feel bad, she said, because other people are feeling a lot worse. “We start treating our emotions almost hierarchically,” she said, deciding we weren’t worthy of her. But that’s counterproductive, said Dr. David because emotional pent-up is associated with increased risk of burnout and lower overall well-being.

So what is the best way to accept unwanted feelings? “Take a deep breath and actually let those thoughts rise to the surface,” says Tracy Dennis-Tivary, psychologist and director of the Emotion Regulation Laboratory at Hunter College in New York City. It can be helpful to share them with friends or write them down in a journal. It’s about “allowing yourself to let that inner dialogue come out,” she said.

There’s another important reason not to suppress your feelings: “Difficult emotions have value,” said Dr. Dennis-Tivary because they provide us with information about our wants, needs and values. If we bottle them, she said, “we lose the data they give us.”

Take away the anxiety I felt as I thought about the fall chaos to come. It may be uncomfortable, said Dr. Dennis-Tivary, but I can use it to help me plan for the future and manage the uncertainty. Last week, as I pondered how I would meet all my September work deadlines while navigating my kids’ busy after-school schedules, I decided it would be wise to hire an afternoon babysitter — and I started doing that search for one. My anxiety helped me recognize that I had an unmet need (support) and motivated me to find solutions to address it (hiring a babysitter). Fear prompts us to ask, “What can you do now to feel a little more in control of the situation?” said Dr. Harden Bradford.

The sadness at the end of summer also gives us useful data, added Dr. Dennis Tivary added. “It’s information about what we really value and want in our lives,” she said, and we can use it to define our priorities. Try to figure out what makes you saddest about the end of summer and see if you can schedule more time for it in the future, she suggested. Maybe you spent a lot of your free time reading fiction this summer and you’re upset that that might end – is there anything you can do to fit more free time reading into your fall schedule?

If your anxiety or sadness is about an issue that seems out of your control, try to identify small things you can address. A few years ago, the partner of Dr. Dennis-Tiwary faced serious challenges at work, much of which he could not control, and his stress even affected Dr. Dennis-Tivary’s own mental health. “I was at a higher level of anxiety than I’ve been in a long, long time,” she said. She tried to focus on aspects of the situation that she could change, but she realized she could be more helpful if she were a supportive partner. “I decided that I would make a plan to spend extra time just being there to listen to him,” she said. “It gave me purpose and strengthened our relationship, and it actually helped me get through it.”

Of course, fear isn’t always helpful, said Dr. Dennis Tivary. Sometimes it can feel all consuming. If that applies to you, she said, make time to connect with the present in ways you enjoy — maybe through a walk, gardening, talking to a therapist, or doing yoga or breathing exercises.

dr David suggested framing your feelings as observations. When we think or say things like “I’m sad” or “I’m worried,” we imply that those feelings are who we are and that they are all-encompassing, she said. “It’s actually a kind of imprisonment,” she said, “because you define yourself through this difficult emotion and there’s no space for the other parts of you to come out.” Instead, try saying something like, “I realize that I’m sad” or “I notice that feelings of anxiety are coming up”. When we reframe feelings in this way, we can create room for progress, she said.

As I enjoy these final weeks of summer, I will remind myself that my feelings of loss and worry are normal, even helpful. In the coming weeks, I’ll try to explore my emotions to learn a little more about myself and identify steps I can take to make fall feel a little less scary and a little more inviting. But I still steer clear of pumpkin spice treats.

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