The Science Behind Fall's Effects on Mental Health

The golden hues of falling leaves, the cozy embrace of a chunky sweater, and the first sip of a pumpkin spice latte — the fall season is known for its charm and picturesque beauty. However, beyond the aesthetic and romanticized depiction of autumn, for some it can also bring with it a shift in our mental well-being. Understanding the impact of the fall season on our mental health can be important in terms of using strategies to make sure we stay resilient and positive during this time.

The Science Behind Fall's Effects on Mental Health:

  1. Reduced Daylight: Shorter days mean reduced exposure to sunlight, leading to disruptions in our circadian rhythms, and affecting the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to mood regulation. According to a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, diminished sunlight exposure can lead to seasonal variations in serotonin transporter levels, potentially affecting mood1.
  2. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): This mood disorder, a subtype of depression, is characterized by its seasonality, with many affected individuals experiencing symptoms during fall and winter. A comprehensive review in The American Journal of Psychiatry highlights the importance of light exposure, or lack thereof, as a central factor in SAD2.
  3. Transitions and Change: A study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior highlights that transitions, such as the shift from relaxed summer months to structured routines in fall, can induce stress and influence psychological well-being3.
  4. Cold Weather and Indoors Confinement: As temperatures drop, people tend to stay indoors, leading to reduced social interactions and physical activity. This change can affect our mental health, as outlined in a study from Social Science & Medicine, which emphasizes the correlation between physical activity and mental well-being4.

Strategies to Mitigate Fall's Mental Health Impacts:

  1. Light Therapy: Recommended for those with SAD, light therapy involves exposure to specific wavelengths of light, mimicking natural sunlight. Research in Archives of General Psychiatry attests to the efficacy of light therapy in treating SAD5.
  2. Stay Active: Engage in physical activities, both indoor and outdoor. Not only does this combat the sedentary tendencies of colder months, but exercise has a documented positive effect on mental health, as noted in a publication from The Lancet Psychiatry6.
  3. Embrace Routine: Establishing routines can provide stability and structure, acting as anchors during times of change.
  4. Stay Connected: Social connections enhance our mood and mental health. A meta-analysis in PLOS Medicine underscores the significant impact of social relationships on mental health outcomes7.
  5. Mindfulness and Meditation: Both practices can help to reduce stress, enhance emotional regulation and improve mental clarity. A review in JAMA Internal Medicine highlights the benefits of mindfulness and meditation on psychological well-being8.
  6. Seek Professional Help: For persistent feelings of sadness or depression, professional intervention can provide necessary support and strategies.
  7. Engage with the Season: Immersing oneself in seasonal activities can foster a positive attitude towards change and offer therapeutic benefits.

All in all, while the fall season presents certain mental health challenges for some, it also paves the way for reflection, understanding, and growth. With knowledge, awareness, and proactive strategies, we can harness the season's transformative potential and navigate its complexities with confidence, skills and optimism.


  1. Lambert, G. W., Reid, C., Kaye, D. M., Jennings, G. L., & Esler, M. D. (2002). Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. The Journal of Neuroscience, 22(24), 10601-10607. ↩
  2. Roecklein, K. A., & Rohan, K. J. (2005). Seasonal affective disorder: An overview and update. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 162(1), 4-20. ↩
  3. Wheaton, B. (1990). Life transitions, role histories, and mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 57-71. ↩
  4. White, R. L., Babic, M. J., Parker, P. D., Lubans, D. R., Astell-Burt, T., & Lonsdale, C. (2017). Domain-specific physical activity and mental health: a meta-analysis. Social Science & Medicine, 193, 112-120. ↩
  5. Terman, M., Terman, J. S., & Ross, D. C. (1998). A controlled trial of timed bright light and negative air ionization for treatment of winter depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 55(10), 875-882. ↩
  6. Chekroud, S. R., Gueorguieva, R., Zheutlin, A. B., Paulus, M., Krumholz, H. M., Krystal, J. H., & Chekroud, A. M. (2018). Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(9), 739-746. ↩
  7. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLOS Medicine, 7(7), e1000316. ↩
  8. Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., ... & Ranasinghe, P. D. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357-368. ↩