Seasonal mood changes are often associated with the bleak, cold months of winter. But what happens when you start feeling more anxious than usual at the end of the summer? Many people experience irritability, agitation, loss of appetite, insomnia, general stress and other anxious behaviors. In some cases, this anxiety can even be intense enough to meet the criteria for seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
This phenomenon is often referred to as August anxiety, a nervous anticipation many people feel as life begins to resume its chaotic, hectic pace after the less structured months of summer. As some 40 percent of surveyed business owners or managers plan to roll out their return to office plans between September and October of 2021, this could mean even more anxiety this August.
If you struggle with August Anxiety, here’s what to know to make it through.
The science behind August anxiety
End of summer anxiety is not all in your head. In fact, there is a biological component as to why agitated, irritable mood shifts can increase this time of year. Environmental factors in the summer such as humid weather and high temperatures can cause the salivary glands to release elevated amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, according to research from the Journal of Applied Physiology.
This excess cortisol can throw off patterns in your natural circadian rhythm such as eating or sleeping habits. That disruption can then lead to anxious behaviors, especially for those with acute heat sensitivities.
From a psychological standpoint, August can also usher in a sense of uneasiness about new transitions on the horizon. Neda Gould, PhD. and clinical psychologist, explains in an article for Well+Good:
“We associate summer with fun and excitement and leisure activities and vacations, and as that starts to near an end…we develop anxiety because of the fear of what’s to come in that change, as well as melancholy or sadness around the end of this respite we have from the regular year.“
This idea that you need to fill those last few weeks of summer with as many fun activities as possible before the seriousness of normal life returns can cause heightened or unrealistic expectations for the season. All this added mental load can manifest as irritability, agitation, restlessness and other anxious symptoms.
How to find relief from August anxiety
The good news is, August anxiety can be managed. Here are a few practical, actionable steps that you can use on a daily basis to find relief when you’re suffering from end of summer anxiety
- Integrate a mindfulness practice into your routine. Mindfulness means to be aware and attentive of what is occurring in the moment, rather than worried about whatever is coming next. This helps you tune out the mental chatter that often causes anxiety, fear or overwhelm, so that calm and stillness can take root instead, according to the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine. A mindfulness practice can include conscious breathing, meditation, self-compassion mantras and other awareness techniques that center your thoughts in the present rather than focusing on the anxiety.
- Carve out downtime as you return to a busy schedule. As August ends, it can seem like you’re being pulled in several directions, from school prep to enjoying one last weekend away. No matter how packed your calendar is, carve out time to decompress each day. Take a walk outside on your lunch break, read a book in the carpool line or watch an hour of Netflix at night.
- Limit your heat exposure. If you’re sensitive to hot weather or notice a connection between high temperatures and anxiety spikes, limit your outside time this month. Too much heat exposure can cause sensations that mirror a panic attack such as faintness, shakiness, palpitations or shortness of breath. This can worsen anxiety even more, explains psychotherapist Ellen Yom.
- Maintain healthy, consistent eating and sleeping habits. When you don’t eat well or sleep enough on a consistent basis, the deprivation turns into irritability. The brain requires both rest and nutrients in order to function optimally. When it doesn’t receive these basic needs, it can restrict neural plasticity, which leads to a higher risk of anxiety or other mood shifts, explains the Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment Journal. Don’t sacrifice eating or sleeping just because you have a full schedule. It is vital to care for your health.
Normal and manageable
If you feel anxious at the end of the summer, you don’t have to just resign yourself to that feeling. This condition is common and also manageable with these simple, yet important strategies.
Don’t let your anxiety take over this year. Use these ideas to head into a new season feeling as great as you have all summer long.