August is like the quote from the Charles Dickens novel, "A Tale of Two Cities."
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
It's the best because so much fun stuff happens in August. Gardens are bursting with produce, state and county fairs are rolling, tons of people take vacations and there's plenty of opportunity for al fresco dining.
But August may also be the worst of times, because it's a harbinger of the end of summer. The weather will eventually turn cold, the days will darken and people will have to go back to school and work. Even if you don't alter your routine at all in the warmer months, summer just seems so much more optimistic and chill than fall and winter. At least, it does from my perspective.
While searching for info online about the end-of-summer blues, I came across some articles about "August anxiety." It's not an official diagnostic term, but a therapist from Wales, Gillian Scully, apparently used it to describe what some of her patients felt this time of year. I think it's a fitting title.
Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a Mayo Clinic psychologist, says that August is a time of change. And change causes stress -- sometimes good, sometimes bad.
"Some people struggle with seasonal patterns of change related to Seasonal Affective Disorder," says Sawchuk. "But transitional times and situations in which you have to prepare for an upcoming change, may also cause anxiety, stress or worry. August is a time of transition."
Our lives transition from summer mode back to routine. And we get clues from nature that change is coming, which may be more evident this year as trees are dropping some leaves and grass is brown from drought conditions.
Feeling a little down this time of year may be normal for many people.
"But these are not normal times," says Sawchuk. "The pandemic, especially with the uptick in cases due to the Delta variant, adds a layer of uncertainty to the changes for which people need to prepare. That increases stress."
Parents who normally prepare for their kids return to school in August may now wonder if there will be new mandates or restrictions. Or they may fret about managing logistics to accommodate another round of remote learning. So, what should you do if you become mired in worry about what might happen when August ends and September begins? And when should you seek help?
"This is when I recommend people check in with their personal stress meter," says Sawchuk. "We all have a stress level that's acceptable. But when you become overwhelmed and symptoms ramp up, it's time to stop and assess what's happening."
Some clues that you may need to address your situation include:
- Physical symptoms, such as fatigue, insomnia and headaches.
- The inability to take care of your home, work, your relationships or yourself.
- Realization that you've stopped participating in activities that, in the past, have helped you cope.
When should you seek help? Where should you start? Sawchuk says that treatment options range from low-intensity self-help to formal therapy.
"You could start by focusing on one healthy behavior, such as getting to bed earlier each night or getting 5,000 steps in every day," says Sawchuk. "Next, you could try reading a self-help book on stress management and coping behaviors. If those ideas don't work and worry, anxiety or sadness continue to disrupt your life, contact your health care provider."
Every August, I find myself dreaming about the early days of June when it seems summer would stretch into eternity. And I feel a little tug at my heart when I think about how much I'll miss my boys when they're off to school and how I'll worry about their safety and exposure to COVID-19.
So, yes. "August anxiety" is definitely a fitting title for experiences of anticipation and change.
Vivien Williams is a video content producer for NewsMD and the host of "Health Fusion." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.