The fall season brings crisp air, colorful leaves, and for many, increased feelings of stress and anxiety. Shorter days, cooling temperatures, and the ramp-up of work and school responsibilities after a summer break can all contribute to higher stress levels. Additionally, seasonal affective disorder impacts around 5% of adults in the U.S., triggering depressive symptoms in the fall and winter months. Fortunately, there are many effective ways to mitigate stress and promote relaxation and wellbeing during the autumn. This guide provides tips and techniques for managing stress to help you find balance as the seasons change.
Get Ahead of Academic and Work Demands
As summer winds down, now is the ideal time to start getting organized for increased demands of the fall. For students, this may involve going through syllabi and planning study schedules. Set reasonable goals for yourself and break larger projects down into smaller, manageable tasks. At work, talk to your manager about fall and winter priorities and workload expectations. Make sure you are clear on key deadlines and assignments. Getting on top of demands early on can help prevent being overwhelmed later.
Maintain Exercise and Sleep Routines
Your exercise and sleep habits can greatly impact stress levels. As temperatures cool, it may be tempting to go into hibernation mode and ditch your regular workout routine. However, consistent exercise remains important for managing anxiety and releasing feel-good endorphins. Look for active fall activities you enjoy, like hiking, biking, or joining a recreational sports league. Cooler fall weather can disrupt sleep as well. Keep your bedroom cool, quiet and dark to promote sound sleep. Maintain a regular bedtime routine and avoid digital screens before bed. Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night will help you take on daily challenges.
Adjust Eating Habits
Comfort foods like stews, casseroles and baked goods may be part of fall traditions, but heavy, rich meals can negatively impact energy levels and waistlines. Assess your diet and look for ways to incorporate more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Consume less sugar and reduce portions of calorie-dense comfort foods. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and herbal tea. Consider taking vitamin D and B complex supplements to help compensate for less sun exposure. Establishing healthy fall eating habits will boost your mood and fuel your body.
Spend Time Outdoors
Cooler temperatures may inspire you to spend more time indoors, but getting outside remains essential for your physical and mental health. Take advantage of crisp fall days by going for walks, spending time in nature, or enjoying patio dining with friends. If you have a seasonal affective disorder diagnosis, aim for at least 30 minutes of outdoor light exposure per day. Open blinds and curtains inside to let in natural sunlight. Spending time outdoors can refresh your mindset and perspective.
Relieve Stress Through Breathing and Meditation
When demands pile up and your mind is racing, take brief breathing and meditation breaks throughout your day. Even 60-90 seconds of deep belly breathing can activate your relaxation response. Download a meditation app like Calm or Headspace for short, guided practices. Maintaining awareness of your breath and present-moment experience is an effective way to relieve anxiety and clear your mind. Consider establishing a regular meditation routine as part of your self-care regimen.
Set Boundaries and Limit Commitments
Take inventory of your commitments and look for opportunities to politely say no to nonessential activities. Be realistic about what you can handle in the busier fall and winter months. If your calendar is overloaded, identify commitments that can be reduced, postponed, or delegated. Make sure to set boundaries around your work schedule as well. With hybrid and remote work arrangements, it can be tempting to work excessively long hours. Stick to a reasonable daily schedule, take breaks, and disconnect at the end of the day. Protecting your personal time will help you avoid burnout.
Seek Support From Family and Friends
Don’t isolate yourself socially, even if you feel stressed for time. Spend time with supportive family and friends who enrich your life. Share your feelings and challenges to release emotional burdens. Lean on your social support network for perspective and comic relief when you feel overwhelmed. Offer support in return by listening and showing interest in what others are going through. Caring connections reduce loneliness and build resilience to take on daily problems.
Talk to a Mental Health Professional if Needed
If you continue feeling highly stressed, sad, or anxious, despite your best efforts, seek professional support. A therapist can help you develop targeted coping strategies, manage specific symptoms, and gain insight into patterns. Primary care doctors can check for underlying physical factors contributing to your mood or prescribe anti-anxiety medication if appropriate. Don’t hesitate to access mental health support services on campus, through your employer, or in your community. There are many compassionate professionals ready to help you thrive.
The fall brings unique wellness challenges with changes to climate, schedules and responsibilities. However, by making mindful adjustments to your self-care habits, establishing boundaries, and tapping into social support and therapeutic services, you can minimize stress and maintain balance, health and contentment all season long. With commitment to your mental and physical needs, you’ll be well-equipped to fully enjoy the special pleasures fall offers.