The leaves are beautiful with their foliage, the air is fresh after an oppressing heat. Football games begin, as do new school years. But you are filled with anxiety.
Autumn can provoke anxiety for many people. It’s a season of transition, which is anxiety-provoking in itself, and a transition toward winter, the season with the shortest days.
Try to collect a handful of tools like these that you can use as the leaves fall and the anxiety rises.
You’re already doing it, yes. But are you doing it in a way that reduces anxiety? Your body releases 70 percent of its toxins through breathing. When you breathe deeply, you release carbon dioxide that has been passed through your bloodstream into your lungs.
There are various methods of deep breathing. I simply count to five inhaling through my nose, and then count to five while exhaling through my nose. Counting to five for me is breathing at a rate of five breaths a minute, which maximizes the heart rate variability (HRV), a measurement of how well our parasympathetic nervous system (which combats anxiety) is working.
2. Plug in the lightbox.
Shorter days can affect our circadian rhythm, the body’s internal biological clock that governs brain wave activity and hormone production. For sensitive folks, this can throw them into a depression. Bright light therapy has been proven to be an effective treatment for those who require more sunlight to be their perky selves. Lightboxes are the typical light system used. They are flat screens that produce full-spectrum fluorescent light, usually at an intensity of 10,000 lux. It’s typically used for 30 to 60 minutes each day. Best results are found when using it in the morning. Don’t do what I did and sit down in front of it from 9 p.m. to midnight.
3. Identify the amygdala.
If you hear a voice saying something like this: THE WORLD IS ENDING, that probably is your amygdala speaking. It is the almond-shaped cluster in your brain that is responsible for 99 percent of the panic memos you get. An untamed amygdala can be especially problematic for persons prone to anxiety and depression.
We can’t eradicate our almond-shaped clusters altogether because they do serve a purpose — when we are truly in danger, they provide a little energy boost to get us out of harm’s way. However, we can choose the way we respond to the amygdala: We can immediately panic, or we can send the amygdala’s message to our sensory cortex, a more sophisticated part of our brain. It teases out the essential information and delivers a much more accurate message.
4. Identify cognitive distortions.
With transition and the shorter days comes the hallmark cognitive distortions: all or nothing thinking, jumping to conclusions, overgeneralizations, discounting the positives, blame, and “should” statements. It’s helpful to identify these before you attach too much truth to them, and then to equip yourself with the right cognitive tools to combat them: identifying the distortions, examining the evidence, thinking in shades of gray, and other ways of untwisting your thinking.
5. Grab your security blanket.
Babies aren’t the only ones who are comforted by a tangible object that denotes security to them. I carry a medal in my purse that I will clutch in moments of panic. Other people have told me about a special bracelet or pen or framed print they look at when confused or scared. These things represent hope or strength or safety in an ever-changing, tumultuous world.
6. Stay in the moment.
Anxiety almost always takes place when your brain is fixated on the future. Worry is usually about something you think will happen sooner or later that will be very bad. Rarely do we panic about something that is going on in the present moment.
As the temperature cools during autumn, I start fretting about the winter, and all the ice storms that will keep the kids cooped up at home for 10 days. I have two or three months until I see any snowflakes, but I’m already tackling how to keep sane during the school cancellations. Someone once said, “Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance.”