It’s the time of year when the leaves are crisping to golden, the mornings are chilly and the afternoons are still hot, and a strange tepid breeze blows through on occasion. Yes, it’s finally Fall. While the transition of seasons brings about slow etching changes in our surroundings, it’s also fairly common to spur changes within our bodies.
For example, during the winter months, when the days are shortest and darkest and the temps are freezing, some suffering from SAD — seasonal affect disorder — causing bouts of depression, low levels of energy, and even difficulty sleeping.
You may think that the autumnal season is all about cozy sweaters, pumpkin chai lattes, and beautiful colors, but turns out this season has the knack to cause an increase in anxiety.
This is called autumn anxiety.
What is Autumn Anxiety?
Much like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), autumn anxiety is generally caused by the changing environment. The days begin to shorten, the temperature drops, and that perky summer feeling begins to fade.
In an interview with Healthline, Dr. Clare Morrison, medical advisor at MedExpress, explains that “autumn anxiety is the tendency for people to suffer from anxiety and low mood during the autumn months … [and] … Unlike other anxiety, there often isn’t an obvious external trigger, and it tends to recur annually.”
What differentiates autumn anxiety from the rest?
First off, autumn anxiety occurs … well … only in autumn. This means that if you find yourself feeling a higher level of stress and anxiety that reoccurs annually at the same time — in autumn — then this may be autumn anxiety. Another interesting point, those that don’t generally suffer from anxiety or depression may find themselves consumed in an autumnal anxiety cloud.
What’s it feel like?
Autumn anxiety presents just like any other anxiety, except for the fact that it’s generally laced with an edge of depression. Symptoms of this condition include low mood, depression, excessive worry, irritability, lethargy, sleepiness, fatigue, and loss of interest in everyday activities.
It’s incredibly important to speak with a healthcare professional if you sense an increase in any of these symptoms.
Autumn anxiety may be a precursor to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a season-driven condition that oftentimes leads to depression.
Causes of Autumn Anxiety
There are many factors that come into play with autumn anxiety and we, as humans, unfortunately, don’t have any control over them. It’s all about your environment and the changes taking place as we slip from the sunny, long days of summer into the short, dark and cold days of winter.
So, what exactly are causes of autumn anxiety?
Let’s take a look!
Low Levels of Serotonin + Increased Levels Melatonin
One of the main instigators of autumn-born anxiety is “reduction in sunlight, [which leads] to falling levels of serotonin” and an increase in “the hormone melatonin, which tends to make one feel sleepy and depressed.”
So, what’s up with serotonin? Turns out a lot of important stuff!
Serotonin “is a chemical that has a wide variety of functions in the human body” and it’s oftentimes referred to as “the happy chemical … [as it] … contributes to wellbeing and happiness.” Along with being the “happy chemical” serotonin plays important roles in “transmit[ting] messages between nerve cells,” helps constrict muscles, and affects appetite, emotions, — specifically, maintaining mood balance — as well as “motor, cognitive, and autonomic functions.” When it comes to those changing daylight hours, serotonin may also be the reason your sleep is disrupted. Serotonin is the “precursor to melatonin [and] it helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles and the internal clock.”
Decreased Vitamin D
What is vitamin D? Yeah, it’s that super hard to get vitamin.
Vitamin D “is important for good overall health and strong and healthy bones,” as well as “an important factor in making sure your muscles, heart, lungs and brain work well and that your body can fight infection.” The most important take away about vitamin D is that the human body can make it, but it needs the right ingredients — mostly sunlight, very few foods, and supplements, in some cases when prescribed by a doctor.
How does vitamin D work?
Once your body obtains vitamin D — either from sunlight or supplements — it “has to be changed by your body a number of times before it can be used … Once it’s ready, your body uses it to manage the amount of calcium in your blood, bones and gut and to help cells all over your body to communicate properly.”
How is vitamin D connected with autumn anxiety?
Turns out, per Dr. Morrison, a “lack of [vitamin D] has … been linked with depression.” Therefore, the decreased time spent outdoors in the sun may cause a decrease in your level of vitamin D and may increase the chance of experiencing anxiety or depression symptoms.
Decreased Physical Activity
In the interview with Healthline, Dr. Morrison explains that “other factors [that may cause autumn anxiety] include behavioral changes … because as the weather deteriorates, we spend less time outdoors and do less exercise.” While this ties in with a decreased vitamin D intake, it’s also linked to a decreased amount of physical activity.
Exercise has been linked to better overall health, better brain health, and improved mood. In fact, physical activity has been used as a treatment for anxiety disorders, as well as a way to reduce stress.
Per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ”
“Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout … Science has also provided some evidence that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. Exercise may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.”
A Precursor to Seasonal Affective Disorder
If the winter generally gets you down, then it’s a high probability that the increase of anxiety in the autumn may be a precursor to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a serious condition that should be addressed with your doctor or another medical professional.
So, what’s up with SAD?
Per a One Green Planet article entitled Seasonal Affective Disorder and How to Combat it:
“Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that directly relates to seasons with the lowest temperatures and overcast skies. While the popularization of the term has led most to believe it’s a winter-only disorder, SAD regularly affects people in the fall and, less commonly, in the spring and early summer. Yet, there is much more to SAD than being a little down in the winter and it’s incredibly important to recognize the legitimacy of the condition.”
While autumn anxiety may lead to increased feelings of anxiety, stress, and difficulty sleeping, SAD takes it one step further with a dose of depression — specifically, “feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and, in severe cases, suicidal thoughts.” Some people may also experience consequential side effects such as “oversleeping, weight gain, sluggishness, and carbohydrate cravings.”
Therefore, if you’re finding yourself experiencing increased levels of anxiety, it’s beneficial to speak with a healthcare professional.
Alright, now we know all about autumn anxiety, what it looks like, what it feels like, the dangers, and what’s going on in your body.
So, how can you get on top of the anxiety?
While there are healthy habits that you can put into place to help combat autumn anxiety — increase physical activity, get outside and take a walk in the sunshine (even when it’s cold!), buy a “happy energy” lamp for the winter months — diet also plays a crucial role in making sure your body stays balanced.
As there is a strong correlation between serotonin, vitamin D, and autumn anxiety, you’ll want to focus on plant-based foods that have these components or help the body process these components.
With that said, before making any changes to your diet, it’s critical to speak with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action and safest foods for your specific bodily needs.
While the plant-based sources of vitamin D are few and far between, they do exist! If you can’t get enough sunshine, then try incorporating mushrooms or fortified foods.
Mushrooms are pretty much the only naturally occurring source of vitamin D in plants. These delicious fungi “can synthesize this vitamin when exposed to UV light … [and] … wild mushrooms [especially] are excellent sources of vitamin D2 … [with] some varieties [offering] up to 2,300 IU per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving — nearly four times the RDI. However, it’s important to make note that “mushrooms produce vitamin D2, whereas animals produce vitamin D3.” What’s the difference? While vitamin D2 “helps raise blood levels of vitamin D, it may not be as effective as vitamin D3.”
Mushrooms are super fun to cook with as well! Try a few of these delicious, mushroom-filled, vegan-friendly recipes: Silverbeet and Mushroom Soup, this Pecan and Mushroom Wellington, or this Mushroom and Cream Cheese Flatbread.
Fortified foods are another option if you’re trying to avoid straight-up supplements. Vegan-friendly vitamin D-fortified foods include products such as soy milk or other plant-based milk products, orange juice, cereal, and oatmeal.
If you’re really lacking in vitamin D, you can always take supplements. With that said, make sure you have talked with your doctor and choose a high-quality, vegan-friendly brand such as this Country Life Vegan D3 Capsules for $21.59, this Doctor Formulated Vegan Vitamin D3 Supplement for $12.00, or this super affordable DEVA Vegan Vitamin D 800 IU Tabs for $4.35.
Another great addition to an autumnally anxious mood are foods that help increase serotonin and dopamine — also referred to as the “feel-good” chemicals. Foods that are rich in magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and probiotics have been found to “spur the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine … [and are] … a safe and easy first step in managing anxiety.” These foods include leafy greens, — such as in this Spinach and Bean Chipotle Casserole — nuts and seeds, — such as in these Homemade Granola Bars — and avocados — such as in this Fall Superfood Detox Salad.
Antioxidants are also a healthy component for any diet, but especially those seeking to reduce anxiety. In fact, it’s been found that “anxiety is thought to be correlated with a lowered total antioxidant state.” Therefore, “enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants may help ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders,” such as autumn anxiety. Foods rich in antioxidants include most plant-based products, yet, to get you started, try focusing on antioxidant powerhouses such as black and kidney beans, — Cuban Black Beans and High-Protein Kidney Bean Brownies — blueberries and raspberries, — Blueberry and Lemon Breakfast Bowl and Probiotic Berry Smoothie — walnuts and pecans, — Walnut Taco Meat and Southern Pecan Caramel Sauce — and artichokes, beets, and kale — Artichoke Walnut Bruschettas, Bomb Beets Burgers, and Baked Kale Chips.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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