Published September, 2018
There are many feelings in the air when Fall rolls around: excitement for pumpkin spice lattes, nervousness about the kids going back to school, worry about starting or resuming college or university, anxiety about the colder weather, and/or dread about the shorter days/darker nights. How do we cope with this mix of emotions?
A first step is to acknowledge that it is common and healthy to have many different emotions at once. This is in contradiction to what we sometimes learn about emotions, which is that we either feel one way or the other (e.g., I’m either happy or sad about the start of Fall. I’m either nervous or excited about my kids’ starting school). How often do we feel pressure to “pick one” when someone asks, “How are you?”
The truth is, our emotions are complex, and there is no “one-size fits all” approach to coping with emotions. However, there are some strategies that might help, should you feel that you are struggling:
First, remember that your emotions are important and valid. If you feel a certain way, it means that there was a trigger (cause) for your emotion. You did not make up the way you feel, nor do you need to feel guilty for having an emotion. Emotions are neither good or bad, they just “are.”
Next, you can try to figure out the triggers for your emotion(s). What set me off this morning? Why am I suddenly feeling blue? One way to do this is to keep track of thoughts running through your mind. You can also write down your thoughts to figure out if there are patterns or themes.
It might also be helpful to confide in a close friend or loved one about how you are feeling. Others can help put our feelings in perspective and look at the situation differently. They can also help to validate our feelings. “I get what you’re feeling. I feel that way too sometimes.”
You can also learn more about the issue. If you are struggling with seasonal affective disorder, you can read about the condition online or through self-help workbooks. If your child is struggling with starting school, you can look for resources on separation and school anxiety.
While it is important to process our emotions, it can also be helpful to “let emotions sit” That is, you can choose to co-exist with your emotions rather than trying to replace or suppress them. Over time, they might resolve on their own.
You can also try to distract yourself from your emotions (at least temporarily) through enjoyable activities such as reading, listening to music, cooking, baking, going for a walk, puzzles, video games, and/or movies. You can then return to the situation with a fresher lens.
Finally, you can try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation (clenching and then relaxing muscles in your body). These techniques help to slow things down while also decreasing anxiety and stress.
Overall, it can be helpful to remember that life is a cycle that continually regenerates. The Fall will come and go, as will Winter, Spring, and Summer. Should you be having a difficult time, there is comfort in the phrase, “This too shall pass.”
Dr. Elizabeth Orr is a clinical psychologist who treats children, adolescents, adults, couples and families at the Guelph Psychology Centre.