The weather isn’t the only thing that changes with the season. Your mental health and mood also fluctuate in response to this cycle. As the warmth of summer fades into the chill of autumn, you might start to notice an uptick in stress levels. It’s not your imagination, it’s autumn anxiety. After all, this is a hectic, fast-paced time of year.
You juggle between readjusting to school routines and extracurricular activities and planning for the holiday rush just around the corner. So there’s no wonder these busy fall months can be overwhelming at times. However, if your stress feels rooted in something deeper or more internalized, keep this in mind. There’s a biological component to autumn anxiety as well.
The connection between brain chemistry and seasonal change
As you transition into fall, minimal light exposure lowers the brain’s neurotransmitter levels which you need for emotional stability, while increasing cortisol (stress hormone) levels. This chemical imbalance can result in depression, anxiety, fatigue, chronic sleep disruption, irritability, or sorrow for what seems like no particular reason.
In rare cases, these feelings are symptomatic of a mental health condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Five percent of American adults meet the criteria for SAD, Cleveland Clinic estimates, and 75 percent of those with the diagnosis are women.
Like at the end of August, if you also suffer from the depressive fall or winter mood swings associated with SAD, it’s crucial to spend as much time as possible outside in daylight hours. This boosts Vitamin D levels which, in turn, increases the mood stabilizing hormone serotonin. If the weather is too chilly or overcast to be outside, take a Vitamin D supplement, suggests Cleveland Clinic.
Autumn anxiety rates during year 2 of the global pandemic
Elevated burnout from more than 19 months of this global pandemic is another contributing factor for autumn anxiety rates. The 2021 Healthy Now Report from Cleveland Clinic and Parade Media reveals that 60 percent of Americans are likely to feel stressed or anxious this fall. That’s a 10 percent surge from this time last year. In addition, more than half of respondents notice higher stress levels when COVID-19 numbers rise.
Burnout-related mental health concerns are especially prevalent in the U.S. workforce. In fact, this recent Employee Stress Check 2021 Report found that 52 percent of all surveyed workers experience burnout, and at least 25 percent feel they under-perform on a regular basis due to stress.
This means focusing on mental health for employees is more important now than ever before. Here are some action steps you can take to counteract feelings of stress, burnout, anxiety or depression in the workplace during the fall season.
Four ways to help your team cope
You can help employees manage autumn anxiety effects by creating a workplace culture that promotes resilience. Resilient teams are more likely to exhibit organizational commitment, satisfaction, adaptability and engagement. Whereas teams with low resilience are four times more susceptible to burnout, according to Shonna Waters, Ph.D., VP of Alliance Solutions and business leadership coach at BetterUp.
Use these four tips from Dr. Waters to support your team members’ resilience and mental health during this stressful time of year:
- Re-frame a perceived threat as a challenge. If employees feel overwhelmed by a situation, empower them to view it as a challenge to face, rather than a threat to avoid. This opportunity to grow and learn will produce energy, anticipation and excitement “which can mobilize them for action and problem-solving,” Dr. Waters says.
- Build social support into your work culture. Team bonds that form around trust, cohesion, safety and common goals are imperative for rebounding in times of stress or anxiety. Invest in one-to-one relationships with each team member, and create space for them to build authentic, meaningful connections with one another also.
- Recognize and develop employee strengths. Affirm the contributions your team members bring to the table and provide them with the resources to further hone those skills. This will boost their confidence and self-efficacy, both of which help to create an emotional buffer against stressful circumstances.
- Emphasize the importance of mindset shifts. People with a growth mindset, who believe they’re in charge of their own decisions and outcomes, are six times more likely to be resilient than those who feel victimized by situations. So remind employees that a simple tweak in perspective is within their control.
Autumn anxiety is real
Autumn anxiety, and the impacts it can have, is real. Luckily, seasonal mood shifts are manageable with access to the right support, resources and interventions.
Be gentle with yourself and the others this fall and use these strategies to support anyone who needs it. Keep all communication channels open and guide your team members out of the seasonal storm. It is crucial to take really good care of our mental health during these difficult times.