Fall is officially here. For many, autumn is the favored season. Autumn lovers talk about crisp, cool evenings and warm sunny days. Roasting marshmallows over a fire pit. Picking apples and drinking hot apple cider with friends.
When I think of fall, I think of grays. My green plants turn brown and gray. The sky spends as many days gray as blue and sunny. The day darkens earlier and earlier, plunging the final hours of the day into darkness.
Whether you experience anxiety or not, surviving season changes can be difficult, especially fall, because things are dying. Even with sunny days and fire pits and fresh apples, the natural world around us shuts down and prepares for winter. The colorful abandon of summer, with jewel-toned hummingbirds and bright butterflies and green frogs and of course flowers everywhere gives way to months when the natural world hunkers down to wait for better days.
Autumn and winter are the waiting months. Many of us do less because there is less light, and I think all of us are affected by shorter days. Events tend to end earlier and some of us stay home more. For those of us with social anxiety issues, especially, we can use all that as an excuse to hole up and isolate.
I don’t hate fall. Some days I stand shivering in the back yard with the dogs and listen to the rustle of crisp leaves and smell the clean air and look into the deep blue sky and simply breathe joy.
But that doesn’t mean the change is easy. I made a short list of things I do survive seasonal changes in the fall. I’d love for you to chime in with things that work for you.
Find the Light
Six years ago we moved to the country, and what sold me on the house was two large south-facing windows. I am affected by the darkness. Many, many people are affected by seasonal darkness. My bright windows have helped immensely.
You may not have big windows, in which case you need to find light elsewhere. There are lamps that simulate daylight made just for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD. It’s so common it has its own disorder name.). These are popular on the Pacific West Coast of the US which have a whole lot of year-round cloudy days.
Go out. Be with people. Most people gather in bright places—malls, parks, big box stores. Find a bright place where things are active and alive to counter the shutting down of the natural world around you.
Spend time outside. Actual sunlight on your skin is healthy for your body and soul both. Some chemical reactions happen better in the sunlight. Make it a point to walk the dog, or park a little farther from the door, or plan family time in a park. Take on a fall or winter sport. But don’t stay inside. (Since becoming a diabetic I have become a reptile who can’t get warm, but even I go out with the dogs a few times a day, and on the warmer fall days I work hard to get out more, knowing some days I simply can’t make myself go out and shiver.
Grieve the summer
I miss the hummingbirds. They arrive in April and leave late in September, and as I clean the feeders and put them away, I grieve. It will be months before they come again. Grieve the gardens and the bright green trees. Let the emotions come and don’t feel guilty. Autumn is a time of death. That sounds morbid, but it’s true. Annual plants are gone for good. The world that wakes up in the spring isn’t quite the one that went to sleep in the fall. So say goodbye.
That sounds great in theory, but are there practical ways to do this? For me, I find closure and farewells in putting the property to bed for the winter. Collect seeds for spring. Take special care putting away hummingbird feeders or garden tools. Same with summer clothes. Remember good times in these shorts or that bathing suit, and then carefully put it all away until next year.
Most of the goodbyes as we change seasons also look forward to the rebirth of spring. When I collect seeds and pack the summer clothes and clean the bird feeders, I also look ahead. God promises the seasons will roll around until the end of the world. Next spring will come. Fall may be the end of this version of the world, but spring will welcome a new one with things to grow and adventures to be had and life to live.
Maybe fall is a good time for deeper grieving. As you slow down, let go of past wounds that have nothing to do with seasons. Let the fall be the time you do a little spiritual and emotional grieving to let things go as a new season begins.
Celebrate along the way
In this country, stores fill with Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations at the beginning of fall. Everything in the grocery store becomes pumpkin spice or apple flavored. Same with candles for the home. Embrace this time of year with special decorations, special foods, things that aren’t available any other time. I’m not a fan of Halloween or pumpkin, but I usually buy some bags of candies for munching. I buy lots of bags of Candy Corn because they’ll be gone again in November.
Look ahead to Christmas or fall and winter birthdays or anniversaries. We are made to celebrate. God filled the world around us with beauty and the heart to praise and rejoice—we were built to party!! So go ahead and plan something with friends or family, not only for the event itself but for the act of planning and looking forward to something.
Try daily celebration and thankfulness. I’ve added this to my morning Bible time, and it has more impact than I imagined. Especially for those who love the natural world in the fall–the leaves, the smells, the more comfortable temps–praise and thanksgiving are easy this time of year. Developing a habit of praise and gratitude can change you not only in the fall but year round.
Hit the reset button
We had a hard summer here. Gardening was a battle, and I lost it more than I won. Caterpillars completely defoliated a tree in my yard in three days. Fungus turned everything black. I admit this year I’m itching for fall for a new reason. Fall can be a time to reset. I hope a lot of the hardship that plagued my yard this year won’t survive the winter, so next spring can be new.
You can reset things in your life with the change of seasons, too. Set new goals. Make new habits. Use the darker hours to read or to stream something new like a hobby or a Bible study. Look at what didn’t work in your life over summer and make it better. Then when the season changes again, reevaluate again. When I was in school, life had a lot of reset points. As an adult I have to make our own reset points where I look at where I am and where I’m going, and seasonal changes are great opportunities to reset.
Personally, I need to solidify my quiet time schedule. Sometimes I set it aside in the summer so I could do garden chores during the few cool hours of the morning. I am also resetting my social life. I barely left my house this summer, but here in the fall I’m going to a Life Group at church as well as catching up on dentist, doctor, vet, all kinds of appointments I’d let slide. My anxious soul balks, but I need to do these things. I can reevaluate later, but this is my plan for now.
I also need to do some fall cleaning. During the summer I spend all my energy outside, and my house looks like nobody cared about it for three months. That would be true. Fall and especially winter will go better if I get my home spaces under control. Clutter in one’s physical space is a big anxiety trigger, so take time to get your space together before you are forced to spend more time there.
And a list (I love lists)
Here are a few things that can help with the transition from summer to fall and winter:
- Seek light. Don’t isolate in the dark
- Try new tastes and smells in your home and your food, things you can only experience in this season
- Decorate for the season
- Evaluate habits and patterns in your life and hit the reset button on some of them
- Grieve the last season. As you put one season to bed and set up for another, let the emotion come
- Splurge on a new fall outfit or home accessory
- Celebrate holidays, seasonal traditions, or special family holidays
- Create random celebrations with friends
- Find something special to do with the darker daytime hours, something special to you
- Find ways to look forward to the future—design next year’s garden, plan a vacation, research a job change or a new hobby
God and the seasons
God made this world with seasons, with life and death around us on a cycle. That wasn’t an accident. We were meant to survive season changes, even to thrive and learn through them. So use each season. See the Gospel in the seasons—how Jesus came to restore life, to take away the darkness and the winter and bring life and spring. Be aware of the seasons and you will become more aware of God and his heart and his ways.
Joel 2:23-24 Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. 24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. Daniel 2:21 He controls the times and the seasons; he makes and unmakes kings; it is he who gives wisdom and understanding. (GNT)
The change of seasons can be a time of sadness as wells as a time of joy. I hope you can find ways to celebrate, to grieve, and to grow. Feel free to comment with your own stories of surviving seasonal changes and how you transition from one season to the next.