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Life's Big Questions: How Can I Get Over My End-of-Summer Funk?

It's officially three days into autumn. Time for all those fall things I love: cozy sweaters, apple pies, and leaf-peeping.

So why can't I stop thinking about the beach?

If you, like me, are having trouble letting go of sweet summertime and hunkering down for fall (and, alas, winter), you may need a hand getting over the hump. I asked two area psychologists, David Sternberg and Marsha Lucas, for advice on managing my fall funk.

That funk "is something a lot of people experience but don't readily identify or acknowledge," says Sternberg, who says he hears about it from both male and female clients and sees a bit more of it among the younger set. "They're still young enough that they're still in that post-college mode and having a hard time adjusting in general to the working mode. The older crowd seems to have settled" into the seasonal pattern a bit better, he says.

To combat the autumn blues, Sternberg and Lucas recommend that you:

- "Compartmentalize" Your Feelings: "Remind yourself that your vacation had a beginning and an end, and now it's time to get back to work," Sternberg suggests. Looking at life that way may help you remember that you'll get another vacation one of these days. "Developing that mindset is important."

- Get Outside: "Make sure you get plenty of daylight to keep your biological clock regulated," Lucas cautions. Exercise is key here, too, she says; both are increasingly important as the days grow shorter.

- Mark the Calendar: Plan a trip, even just a weekend getaway, to break up the months ahead and give you something to look forward to. It doesn't have to involve a lot of money, travel or distance," he adds. "Just get something on the calendar."

- Meditate: No, you don't have to sit in full lotus and say Om. But Lucas points to a new body of research showing that "mindfulness meditation" can rewire your brain and make you more emotionally resilient. Learn more by reading books by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Tara Brach, Lucas suggests.

- Talk it Out: You may feel silly or even guilty for indulging in the blues if, on balance, your life is pretty darned good. But holding your feelings in will only make you feel worse -- and may lead you to self-destructive "acting out" behaviors such as overeating or substance abuse. "If you don't acknowledge it and voice your concern, it could come out in some other way," Sternberg says. And it doesn't have to be a mental-health professional that you talk with, he adds: "It could be a partner or a friend," he says. "Tell them 'This is how I've been feeling, and I don't want to just sit on it,'" he suggests.

The end-of-summer blues may be a sign of a more debilitating condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression thought to be caused by winter's diminished sunshine and the effect that loss of light has on our hormones and other bodily systems. We'll revisit SAD, as it's known, in a future blog.

For now, though, do you have time-tested strategies or bright new ideas for weathering the transition from summer to fall? Do tell!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Life's Big Questions  
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One of the biggest depression lifters is to stop reading blogs on the WaPo. The nastiest, rudest bunch of losers post insults just for laughs. Boycott the major offenders -- "On Balance" and 'On Parenting", as well as that Achenblog thing. Some people just have too much time on their hands.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 24, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

On the flip side, I love when autumn comes, and can say that summer is my least favorite season - why no articles about the end of spring funk? A crowded beach in the sweltering heat has nothing on a walk in the woods in the fall with temps in the 70's, no crowds, no humidity. Even the beach is better - go to Assateague on a weekday in late September or October and you'll have perfect temps, the water is still warm even if the air is cool, and the insects are lethargic if not dormant. You can surf or fish anywhere you want because you practically have it to yourself. Ditto on the Outer Banks. In OC you won't have to wait in line for a thing and won't get gouged on lodging if that's more your speed - when I lived there the Tuesday after Labor Day was time to celebrate because you had perfect weather and no tourists. What is there to be depressed about? The worst time of year is spring, just before Memorial Day, when you know that coming weekend kicks off the season when magnitudes of insufferable morons clog the roads as they descend on your favorite places.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 24, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I agree wholeheartedly with 9:44. Autumn is my favorite time of year. Cool mornings, clear nights, great time for a brisk walk without passing out from heat stroke. I have that SAD too, so the only down side of autumn is winter coming fast on its heels. Then all I want to do is crawl into bed, pull the blankets over my head and sleep until April. No amount of artificial light can help. Antidepressants help but don't do Zoloft unless you want to gain a ton of weight. That's just something else to be depressed about.

Posted by: South of the Beltway | September 24, 2008 9:57 AM | Report abuse

9:44 here again - I just wanted to add to my original post that I realize that for some people the whole reason for taking a vacation in the summer is to see and be seen, and if that's your thing then that's your thing. But if you just always take a vacation in the summer because you're never questioned that is when you're "supposed" to take a vacation and get depressed when it's over, then try taking a week or two in the fall - you'll be amazed at what you've been missing.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 24, 2008 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I completely agree with 9:44 about taking a vacation other than during the summer. Too much heat, too many people, and too high prices. We just got back from a few days in Massachusetts...perfect weather, slower pace, and I even got to visit a cranberry bog. A screaming children or frazzled parents. Just old timers enjoying each day. Wish I could be one of them!

Posted by: AnonymousII | September 24, 2008 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Every year, there is a smell the comes with the realization that Autumn is near and that Summer is either gone or going quickly. I LOVE this day when the air becomes crisp, and the stickiness of our disgusting Augusts dissipates.

Posted by: rcotten | September 24, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Every season has its good points. If you're blue because summer vacation season is over then maybe you need to re-think your fall schedule. The weather has been lovely - it's a good time to get outside before it gets wintery.

I'd also add that this is a good time to be sticking a flashlight or blinker into your commuter bag. It's already darker in the mornings and will be getting darker in the evenings. While fall may not be your favorite season, some kind of light to keep you more visibile to motorists will make sure it isn't your LAST season!

Posted by: RoseG | September 24, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I do love hearing from The Checkup's readers; you always have something interesting to add to the conversation.

For the record, I adore autumn once I make the transition; it's just the melancholy of letting go of summer that gets to me. Perhaps it's also the getting back into full-blown fall school schedule; I like the looser schedule that summer offers lots better.

Posted by: Jennifer Huget | September 24, 2008 2:43 PM | Report abuse

While I miss some of what autumn had to offer, I still get to see it here in Dec. & Jan. I know that I certainly don't miss the DC winters.

Posted by: FormerResident | September 25, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

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