From Summer to Fall: Dealing with Seasonal Change
Christie Roy Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center staff
SEPTEMBER 01, 2015
Who doesn’t sigh in disappointment when summer draws to a close? Those sunshine-filled, carefree days that tend to bring a relaxed atmosphere to both work and home can’t last forever (as we in New England well know).
As the weather changes outside, you might notice a change in yourself. You may feel more stressed after a less-rigid summer routine, or start to worry about the possibility of a long winter ahead. Maybe you’re adjusting to sending your child back to school each day — or off to college several hours away.
“September especially is associated with a time of change for just about all of us, and that can really affect a person’s mood,” says Stephen O’Neill, LICSW, BCD, JD, Social Work Manager for Psychiatry and Primary Care at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Some people are ready for cooler weather and school to begin, but others aren’t quite as resilient to change.”
Getting through the transition from summer to fall is a matter of adjusting to that change, he adds — to acclimate or re-acclimate oneself to a school routine, a busier commute to work, an added workload in the office after the often slower pace of summer.
Many people who are regularly affected by depression or anxiety around the holiday season are often taught to “brace themselves” for what’s to come, O’Neill says, and this strategy can work for anyone who may not adapt well to change.
“Maybe you start to have less patience when your commute becomes longer in the fall,” O’Neill gives as an example. “If you’re aware of patterns like that, you can think about it ahead of time and get yourself prepared for those feelings.”
Sometimes when we’re feeling stressed out or down in the dumps, we just want to stay inside, alone, away from the rest of the world. O’Neill strongly advises against it for most — though some people will need to lessen their activities as a helpful strategy, total withdrawal is almost never good.
“What’s important is to determine what, specifically, will help you get through that tough time in a way that allows you to not get physically and psychologically ‘deconditioned,’” he says. “Overall, you should still try to stay connected with others. Be active, get outside and keep yourself from escaping into that state of hibernation. Find fun stuff to do around your town and get together with friends. Plan your next vacation or weekend getaway. It’s much better for your emotional state when you have something on the horizon to look forward to.”
The desire to hibernate can carry on into the cooler months and especially winter, when cabin fever can really take hold. O’Neill suggests resisting the urge to isolate; instead, make an effort to schedule things that will keep your busy even when it’s cold out. This can help combat those feelings of restlessness.
What You Can Control vs. What You Can’t
Separation anxiety is normal for parents as they send little ones back to school or older ones off to college in the fall, and kids may not always be open about how much they miss mom and dad. That’s okay, O’Neill says.
“Kids do miss their parents, but if they aren’t missing you too much then you’ve probably done your job as a parent,” he notes. “Kids sort it out when they’re on their own, away from their parents — and you, as the parent, have to trust that they’ll get it right.”
Sending a child off to school can also bring back a parent’s own associations to school — including worries of fitting in — and the parent may fear that their child will have similar experiences.
“That’s something you can’t control — how your child adjusts and fits in to school,” O’Neill says. “Learn to identify those types of things that are beyond your control to manage or change. Try to keep in mind that your child’s worries and issues may differ from yours when you were of a similar age. ”
Most workers care about the work they produce on the job, but when September hits and the to-do list grows longer, it can be tough to remain optimistic.
“Everyone always wants to be on top of their game, which can be hard on a lot of people, especially when things get busy,” O’Neill says. “You might start thinking about everything you haven’t gotten done, and that can be overwhelming.”
Give yourself time to adjust to your more hectic schedule, and talk to colleagues about how they’re feeling, too — it’s more than likely they’re in the same boat. Keep perspective on what is getting done, rather than what isn’t, O’Neill suggests — if you cross five items off your list of eight, focus on “I got five things done today,” instead of “I didn’t finish those three things.”
“And remind yourself that you probably did a few other little things, too, that weren’t even on your list,” he adds.
It’s important to note that while it’s not abnormal for people to feel a little “off” when the seasons change, O’Neill says these feelings should not, in most cases, be mistaken for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a type of serious depression related to the change in seasons.
It’s okay to have days here and there where you feel down or unable to “get it together.” But, if you find that your life is really being affected — you feel down for days at a time, you aren’t eating or sleeping like you normally do, you don’t look forward to activities that you usually enjoy — call your doctor and talk to them about how you’re feeling.
Ways to Stay on Track When the Seasons Change
- Be proactive about getting yourself and your family organized.
- Make lists and schedules that can be posted on your refrigerator or desk, or keep them handy in your phone, your wallet, or your handbag.
- FaceTime or Skype regularly with your college kids.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Walk or exercise for stress relief.
- Take time to relax and/or meditate