If the Sunday scaries are those pangs of anxiety you feel the evening before the start of a potentially stressful workweek, the August Awfuls are the seasonal equivalent, hitting right at the end of summer. "Cooler temperatures, shorter days, … and the back-to-school tantrums can create apprehension and even sadness for many of us as the summer days come to an end," describes Audry Van Houweling, a holistic psychiatric nurse practitioner who say the August Awfuls can indicate "the start of seasonal affective disorder for some of us, as we are already anxiously dreading the cold months of winter."
The end of summer is a time of transition out of vacation and back to a life that seems "more serious and structured," adds Susan McClanahan, Ph.D., the chief clinical officer at Eating Recovery Center/Insight Behavioral Health Centers. Like a disappointing weekend or a Sunday that ended too soon, "it can feel disappointing that summer did not live up to all it was supposed to be, and that life just goes on."
That said, the end-of-summer blues don't have to be inevitable. After all, the beginning of a new season means the opportunity to reset priorities, says Van Houweling: "Jump-start your business, start an exercise routine, or reignite a hobby." Want mental health experts' advice for how to minimize the August Awfuls? Just keep scrolling.
1. Get organized.
Channeling your end-of-summer anxieties into organization can be a really positive thing. That is, if you're feeling bummed about the lazy vacation months giving way to a stricter schedule, reorient your perspective by taking this more productive season by the reigns. As McClanahan suggests, "Making lists, writing, taking time to reflect about goals and hopes for the future can be very helpful."
2. Recommit to exercise.
Traditionally, summer is when we all have fitness on the brain, but holing up at home for hibernation season is not the way to combat your August Awfuls. McClanahan suggests using this time to recommit to exercise—maybe by renewing that expired ClassPass membership or starting to train for a local 10K race. After all, who says our sweater bods can't be as healthy as our swimsuit bods?
3. Embrace the simple pleasures of fall.
Sure, eating tropical fruit and going to outdoor concerts are fun, but so are pumpkin picking and getting to wear your leather jackets again. As Van Houweling says, "Rather than being focused on the summer days you will miss, think about the beauty of the changing leaves, apple cider, getting cozy by the fire, pumpkin spice lattes, comfy sweaters, and harvest festivals."
4. Go outside.
Just because it's about to get chilly again doesn't mean you have to lock yourself up inside for six months. In fact, you shouldn't. "Bundle up and continue to enjoy the outdoors!" Van Houweling advises. "One of the best ways to avoid seasonal blues and seasonal affective disorder is to embrace the sunlight and spend time outside." If it gets too cold, Van Houweling also recommends starting a morning exercise routine in a well-lit gym with windows. Pro tip: Consider adding a vitamin D supplement to your fall wellness routine if you live in a rainy climate.
5. Don't let sugar get the best of you.
Fall is when the Halloween candy and other sweet treats come out in full force, but giving into these sugary traditions might make you feel crummier. "Try not to eat too much pie, as sugar overload can also worsen mood and can contribute to low energy," says Van Houweling. If you're baking this year, opt for a natural sweetener alternative like monk fruit. (This pumpkin spice smoothie uses it, and it's delicious.)
6. Limit your news intake.
With midterm elections coming up, fall can also bring politically induced anxiety. Of course, it's important to stay aware, but if it's negatively affecting your mental health, experts agree you should scale back on your politics consumption. "Limit your daily news intake," suggests Fran Walfish, Psy.D., Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. Consider making a rule to read the news only on certain days and at hours when you're not already feeling overwhelmed so you can "control what and how much goes into your consciousness."
Wishing you minimal August Awfuls and maximal cozy fall days ahead!