Fight the Fall Funk

SOON AFTER LABOR DAY, I begin seeing a steady stream of anxious, sad, stressed people who just one week earlier had been absolutely fine. Memorial Day heralds the start of three months of gorgeous weather, weekends at the beach and unrushed time with friends. Labor Day is the dreaded bookend, signaling the advent of a cycle of frantic scheduling followed by a retreat to the couch in sweatpants. This transition back into “real life” from vacation mode literally happens overnight and for many it is a very tough adjustment.

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Charlotte (47), a mother of two high school students, told me she starts feeling slightly panicked during the last days of August. The intensity of the school year ramps up dizzyingly fast and by the end of the first week of September, her head is spinning. Charlotte also explained, “during the summer we spend our time socializing outdoors, but overnight everyone retreats into private cocoons, bracing for the stress and the freezing temperatures.”

For the many people in a fall funk, it is healthier to try to enjoy the cooler seasons rather than dread them—since they are coming whether we like it or not! Begin by planning a handful of activities or trips for the coming months. A vacation, weekend escape, show or concert will break the time into smaller, more manageable chunks. Additionally, short-term plans with friends and family force one off the couch and encourage connectedness. Socializing may feel less spontaneous it was unleashed upon an unsuspecting group of than during the summer, but carving out time to see friends reduces feelings of isolation and combats low-level depression even if it’s just a cup of coffee or a matinee.

The busy summertime also provides a buffer for those experiencing significant relationship stress, making it possible to forget about problems. When the summer ends, even strong relationships may be challenged because difficult conversations and decisions that were back-burnered during the laid back months are, once again, pushed to the front, demanding resolutions. Childcare changes, renovations, finances or work stressors are a few examples of how the end of summer may signal relationship strain.

A hectic fall schedule might make it easy to continue avoiding significant relationship issues, but in order to successfully survive, a relationship must be nurtured. Don’t wait, because now is as good an opportunity as any to open lines of communication, rather than allow problems to fester and grow. If necessary, it can be a good idea to seek a little professional help, before the struggles become even worse.

The cold days and limited sunlight are also a common trigger for sad and anxious feelings—even in the fall, as the seasonal changes are just beginning. If experiencing a shift in mood, don’t ignore it or believe those who say it’s your imagination. Begin combating it now before it gets worse. Wake up a bit earlier so you see more daylight or, even on cold days, take a short walk outside before it gets dark. Be sure to include physical activity in your schedule—it is scientifically proven to fight depression. Plan each day, even weekends, to include specific activities, achievable goals and enough sleep. This recipe will also keep you busy, feeling productive and enjoying the change of seasons.

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance.