As September approaches, we’ve all been struck by summertime sadness. Here’s what you can do about it.
If you’re an Autumn lover, you’re in luck. It’s just around the corner. You’ll be wishing away the weeks until you can curl up indoors with a thick jumper, a good book, and a chai latte.
But if you’ve spent all year looking forward to our current season of lollies, long-reads and lilos, you may find yourself feeling a little deflated as it starts to tail off.
In a strange hangover from our back-to-school days, for some people August can become a month-long case of ‘Sundayitis’. Somewhere among all those basket bags and sun loungers there’s an odd feeling of anticipation and dread that follows you all the way to September. It’s called August anxiety, or the end-of-summer blues.
But what do we know about August anxiety, and how can we manage it? We’ve gathered all the advice to help you stride into September.
What is August anxiety?
Similar to general anxiety disorder (GAD), “August Anxiety tends to strike towards the end of summer in anticipation of end of holidays, return to school, onset of colder weather and the days drawing in,” explains medical director of Healthspan and author of Cut Your Stress Dr Sarah Brewer.
“It’s a new concept that was identified by therapists who are seeing increasing numbers of clients with anticipation anxiety as summer ends.”
Each year, the majority of us emerge from summer having spent more time lounging by the photocopier than the pool, but it doesn’t stop us from piling on the pressure.
“Social media suggests everyone else is having more fun than we are and the constant striving for more and better and can leave us feeling overwhelmed.”
What are the symptoms?
August anxiety can leave us feeling “jittery, apprehensive, restless, irritable or even panicky at the thought of summer ending and autumn and winter approaching,” says Dr Brewer.
“Physical symptoms can include a rapid pulse, palpitations, sweating, clamminess, tremor and flushing and difficulty sleeping. You may experience a sensation of a lump in the throat which can be triggered by over-breathing.”
How can I avoid August anxiety?
For Dr Brewer, it’s all about exercise. As well as encouraging good sleep, exercise helps to burn off stress hormones and transition us from ‘fight or flight’ mode to ‘rest and digest’ mode, she explains. “Scientists have found that following a six-week long aerobic exercise program produces biochemical reactions in the brain that help you remain calm under stress compared with those who did not exercise.”
As for the rest, Dr Brewer keeps it pretty simple: “avoid excess caffeine, alcohol and smoking,” she says.
A study by Harvard Business School shows that reframing anxiety as excitement can shift the brain into a new, more positive way of thinking.
Psychologist Alison Wood Brooks suggests doing this with so-called self-talk. It might sound strange, but simply saying “I am excited” out loud can help us adopt what Wood Brooks calls an ‘opportunity mind-set’. In other words, faking it ‘til you make it really does work!
How can I manage it?
And if we don’t manage to prevent it, what can we do when we’re already feeling the seasonal blues?
Seek out sunlight
If the weather is particularly rotten, low light levels towards the end of summer may be contributing to your anxiety.
But it’s not all bad news. An Australian study that measured levels of brain chemicals flowing directly out of the brain found that people had higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days than on cloudy ones (and this effect remained the same regardless of temperature). Investing in a light box which mimics daylight may help you maintain a sunny disposition all year round.
Stock up on supplements
Dr Brewer recommends taking vitamin D3 supplements to stop blood levels falling when UV exposure reduces in autumn.
“One of the most popular supplements to reduce anxiety is CBD oil, which helps you relax and promotes general feelings of wellbeing. CBD works by interacting with your brain’s own endocannabinoid system to damp down over-stimulation and relieve anxiety – I swear by it for getting a good night’s sleep.”
“If you are experiencing annoying symptoms in addition to anxiety, such as constipation, insomnia, tiredness all the time, muscle cramps, restless legs, or even a raised blood pressure that is not easy to control, then a lack of magnesium could be involved,” says DR Brewer. It’s easily found in dark green leaves, beans, fish, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and wholegrains, or supplements (but you should check these with a doctor before taking alongside any prescribed medication).
Dr Brewer advises us to spend regular time outdoors, and that’s not as difficult as you might think. “Even when summer comes to an end, there are plenty of activities that can replace going to the beach,” she says.
If it gets worse, seek help
If your August anxiety starts affecting your daily life, or causing you distress, it might be time to reach out to a professional. It could be tricky, but stick with it, talk to a few different professionals and take a look at this comprehensive guide to find the right therapist for you.
Get enough sleep
It’s easier said than done, but getting enough sleep will drastically improve your mood. Long summer nights mean nodding off isn’t always straight forward, but sticking to a regular routine will help.
Rest, don’t nest
It’s time to step out of the September-centric school mind-set that’s still ingrained in many of us. If you’re trying to reduce your anxiety levels in August, don’t spend the last few weeks of summer frenziedly preparing for autumn. Instead, if you fancy taking your summer holiday at the end of August, go for it! It might just help you smooth over the seasonal gap.