Why Do We Feel so Anxious in the Fall?
Fall has officially arrived here in the Northern Hemisphere. Do you ever wonder why some of us tend to feel more anxious at this time of year? I’ll get to that in a bit, but first I want to mention the flip-flopping weather that happens around the juncture of the seasons.
Where I live in the Northeastern US, daily temperatures can fluctuate anywhere from 60 to 90 degrees. It’s a day-to-day inquiry about how to dress. One day we’ll have to bundle up, only to find ourselves peeling off layers later in the day.
But soon the cold will cause the leaves to change color, dry up and blow off the trees with a little help from the wind.
Then it’ll be sweater and scarf weather, and Vata Season will have officially arrived.
Windy, cold and dry is the hallmark of this Ayurvedic season.
Ayurveda is very cautionary about the change of seasons. Our bodies need extra-special TLC as the climate shifts and different elements take charge.
“The Ayurvedic texts say that a disease can take root in the body only during the junctions between the seasons, when all nature is in flux. Because of the upheaval dominating these junctions, the body’s natural immunity becomes virtually defenseless against impending disease.” -Maya Tiwari
And along with this seasonal shift, many of us (especially those with significant Vata dosha in our constitution) will feel familiar fear and anxiety creeping in.
For most of my life, I felt this strange phenomenon and could never make sense of it until I studied Ayurveda. September would roll around and although I loved this time of year – brilliant trees, crisp apples, and back-to-school supplies – I couldn’t deal with the anxiety.
Case in point, this year I made the mistake of scheduling a dentist appointment last week and while there is never a good time in my mind to go to the dentist (dental PTSD!) September is probably the worst month I could have chosen.
I was a hot mess and even the hygienist commented on how anxious she’d been feeling.
In Vata Season, the elements of air and ether predominate. This is shifting from Pitta Season, where fire and water were abundant.
Note: If you’re still experiencing any heat-related symptoms in the body (rashes, acidity, etc.) you might want to read this.
It’s always important to cleanse the body of excesses from the previous season and Mother Nature has just the right foods to help.
The air element in Vata seems easier to comprehend than ether (or space). We recognize the wind blowing and also that the air element inside the body is what moves everything.
But what role does ether play in the body? Think of all the empty spaces in the body – intestines, bladder, blood vessels, etc. Vata dosha rules this mysterious element.
Vata dosha is dry, mobile, cold, light, rough, clear and subtle.
Whether or not Vata is predominant in your constitution (take this quiz to determine yours), all of these characteristics can bring about an imbalance.
Because Vata by nature is movement, it rules the other two doshas, Pitta and Kapha. Nothing happens without Vata. There would be no breath, no blood coursing through our veins, no elimination, no thought processes.
Vata is the queen (or king) of the doshas.
And it can wreak havoc during fall and early winter. This I know for sure. The more awareness I place on this changeable dosha, the more I am able to keep my anxiety and fear at bay.
Vata dosha, more than anything else, needs to be deeply nurtured and nourished.
In addition to Vata Season, there are also Vata times of the day – 2:00-6:00 am and 2:00-6:00 pm. These are hours when you might find increased Vata. Bear this in mind during your day.
Here are a few signs that your Vata dosha might be increased and needs balancing:
- Feelings of heightened anxiety, nervousness, and fear
- Bothered by cold and wind
- Sleep is interrupted and light
- Excess worrying
- Excess stimulation is bothersome – i.e. crowds and loud noises
- Intestinal gas, constipation – the colon is the seat of Vata dosha
- Dryness – skin, hair, stools, eyes, etc.
- Feeling disorganized and overwhelmed
- Can’t sit still
- Fatigue following bursts of energy. Crash and burn (this is typical of Vata energy)
Like increases like in Ayurveda, so think opposite to bring your Vata back into balance.
- Dress warmly and keep a scarf around your neck, especially when windy. The back of the neck is especially vulnerable to wind.
- Eat more warm, gently cooked seasonal foods. Root vegetables are especially grounding for Vatas.
- Avoid cold drinks. Opt instead for warm beverages like spiced herbal teas, warm spiced milk, or warm lemon water with honey.
- Eat enough healthy fats and oils (especially ghee)
- Avoid over-exercising, which can aggravate already high-energy Vata. Gentle yoga, tai chi, and qigong are excellent choices.
- Take quiet walks in Nature – it’s very grounding for airy Vatas.
- Meditation and pranayama (breathing practice) can help soothe Vata anxiety and fear.
- Daily self-massage with warm grounding oils like sesame or almond oil is extremely calming to the nervous system. Or, try an herbalized Vata oil.
- Try to stay away from loud, noisy environments and when you can’t avoid them, take a moment to breathe deeply and find your inner calm.
- Keeping a regular routine with regards to sleeping, eating, working, etc. is imperative for Vatas, who love variety and can easily lose focus. An ideal bedtime is between 9:00–10:00 pm.
- Nurture yourself as much as possible on a daily basis!
- Follow the food guidelines for your constitution and you’ll be on the right track.
When balanced, Vata-type people are creative, optimistic, joyful, forgiving, flexible, and full of enthusiasm. They thrive on change and love to discover and experience new things.
While fall has always ushered in feelings of high anxiety for me, so too has it been a time of super-charged creativity.
Each year I learn a little bit more about keeping the energy balanced, deeply nurturing myself and allowing myself to receive help from others. Especially those gifted with organizational skills. 🙂
Vata Season is also a special time for going within and connecting to our Source. Vata people generally have a very spiritual nature.
So, take the time to get quiet, meditate, be in Nature, and you might find yourself receiving amazing messages to guide you in your life.
May the winds of Vata be gentle this season for us all.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on October 6, 2015, and has been updated.