Sunday scaries. Errand paralysis. FOMO. August anxiety. These days, there's a name for every terrible feeling that you experience over the course of your lifetime. And that's a good thing, because it gives us the vocabulary to talk about things we've felt forever, and reduces some of the stigma around talking about mental health. But as we package every feel into a social media-friendly phenomenon, it leaves us with one big question: what should we do about it?
Take "August anxiety," the newish term used to describe the very real sadness and uneasiness that you feel in anticipation of summer ending. Even though many of us no longer follow a traditional school calendar, we may associate August with going back to school, and having our summer freedom taken away from us. It's been said that August is just like a string of 31 Sundays.
In reality, August is the last third of summer, and you don't want to spend the last warm days in a ball of anxiety, explains Debra Kissen, PhD, clinical director of Light on Anxiety, a cognitive behavioural therapy treatment center in Chicago. If you think you have "August anxiety," then it's important to recognize that there are things you can do to re-wire your brain to handle this month differently, she adds.
"Sometimes our concerns, fears, and distress about our future distress take away from the present moment," Dr. Kissen says. The core skill that you need to develop in order to combat August anxiety is simply mindfulness, she says. Before you roll your eyes and think of all the reasons why you don't want to meditate, listen. Here's how mindfulness works: say you're enjoying a weekend beach day with your friends and then you remember that there are only about three weekends left of summer, and soon you'll be at your desk at work. Instead of letting that crush your mood, return to the present moment, feel your toes in the sand, and notice your surroundings. "Gently notice that thought of future distress, and without judgment, just return back to the present moment," she says.
This is a skill that can help you with anxiety that happens year-round, but it might be especially useful to actively practice it in August, when you know your anxiety is especially potent. It's also worthwhile to find ways to be present, whether that's spending time in nature or literally just watching TV without scrolling your phone at the same time. "It's so much harder and harder to be present, because real-life distractions keep injecting themselves," Dr. Kissen says. "Our minds are so used to being given this pace of information that it doesn’t know how to slow down." And if that still doesn't help, the next best thing you can do for the rest of the month is commiserate with other people and blast the Lana Del Ray.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please contact Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566. All calls will be answered in confidence.