August got you down? Here's how September can pick you back up
The science behind your late-summer blues, and how to cure them with a fresh-start September.
This article was originally posted August 31, 2017.
You can feel it in the air, that little chill (though this summer has been obscenely chilly regardless) that lets you know the summer months are coming to an end. But beyond the changing air, we all get a feeling of sadness inside when we see September creeping up on the calendar. You intuitively know the days will get shorter, your sunny holidays are done for the year and the back-to-school/back-to-work "excitement" is enough to make anyone a little downtrodden. So if you're feeling little sad the summer sun is setting, you're not alone.
While this is a common occurrence, it's by no means a clinical condition. We often throw around the term SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but it's easy to misunderstand just how serious and rare a condition it is. SAD is not a standalone disorder, it's often regarded as part of larger substantial depression in individuals and, even then, is estimated to make up only about five percent of the population. It's also certainly not something that fluctuates; a disorder such as this can often put people in a depressive state, regardless of circumstance, for weeks. So while you might be experiencing a mild downswing of emotions as the seasons change, it's not necessarily SAD.
Even then, those with SAD are far more likely to experience it during the onset of the winter months rather than the beginning of fall, due to the decrease in daylight in colder months, which is considered a biological trigger. It's the extended darkness that begins altering our circadian rhythms, increasing our melatonin and putting our bodies into a deeper resting mode (like a hibernating animal), which is difficult to break out of when our winter days have such minimal sunlight.
So if SAD isn't the culprit, then what is it about the end of August that brings us down? Psychiatrists point to the social structures and pressures that bottleneck us through the August transition to September. July and August are almost overrun with leisure. In fact, there are so many holidays, celebrations and chances for people to take off, get together and relax, that it becomes a hard habit to break. But in those waning days of August (and, if you're lucky, early September), it's like you can hear society revving it's engines; back to school, back to work, back to life, basically. But there's such a rush to do it, that the seasonal swing feels like it's already over by the time it's here (and stores putting out their Halloween decorations already certainly doesn't help).
But before all this autumnal apathy gets you down, remember: there's a positive side here. There's a theory known as the "fresh start effect", where humans mentally chapterize their lives — a new day, a new week, a new era — as a way to move past, motivate and redefine their circumstances and themselves. A changing season that also brings changing habits and schedules means September is the perfect time to take advantage of this effect. Many consider September to be a "second January", another chance to better yourself this year. And if you're feeling skeptical, think about it this way: have you completed all your New Year's resolutions? Of course not, so pull them out and see how many you can cross off in the next four months. Reflect on the first three quarters of this year, think about what you didn't like and what you're ready to refine before it's over — anything from a better body to a new job, or just a happier outlook on life!
Though we'll all miss the warm rays of the sun, don't mourn what's passed, but look forward to letting the changing world around you motivate changes in your own life and behaviour. Then, when next August comes, you'll have a lot more time to relax.