How the Anxiety, Grief, and Joy of Autumn Can Lead the Way to Growth

by | Oct 17, 2021 | Highly Sensitive Person, Holidays/Holy Days/Seasons | 18 comments

Every autumn, I hear an upsurge of anxiety, grief, longing, groundlessness, and joy among my highly sensitive population. Sometimes it will sound like this:

“I’ve been feeling more anxiety lately and I’m not sure why.”

Me: “Well, we don’t have to know why, but if you were to drop into your body do you have a sense of what it might be connected to?”

Closed eyes. Dropping in. Breath. Quiet. Then:

“Maybe autumn. It’s so beautiful but it’s also so melancholic. I’m having a storehouse of memories emerge, and some of them don’t even feel like mine. It’s like the ancestors are closer during this time of year.”

Yes, I feel that, too, and it makes perfect sense. After all, it’s not a coincidence that Halloween and Dia de los Muertos fall during this time of year. Those who live closer to the earth know that the ancestors come near when the winds change and fall arrives. It’s the season of death and dying, both literally and metaphorically. If literal death is in your realm, it’s time to go deeper into a layer of grief. If literal death isn’t in your field, it’s the time to go deeper into the archetypal, metaphoric, and ancestral realms.

For Autumn is the quintessential season to illustrate the key features of transitions. Where winter is the season of reflection, spring the season of rebirth, and summer the season of celebration, autumn is the time when we align with the action of nature and ask ourselves the central question of any life transition: “What is it that I need to let go of?”

Perhaps it’s your habitual thoughts of worry or anxiety; perhaps it’s your tendency to nit-pick or criticize your partner; perhaps it’s getting angry at your kids; perhaps it’s the inner critic, the voice that’s constantly telling you that you’re not good enough. Whatever it is can be blown down to the ground alongside autumn’s leaves and decompose into the earth when we choose to focus consciously on what needs to be released.

Autumn is also the time when memory often floods the emotional body. As your kids leave for school, you may remember those early school days from your own childhood. Whether the memories are positive or negative, you might find yourself pausing for a moment in the bittersweet realm of nostalgia where you become exquisitely aware of the passage of time. Another summer over, another school year beginning, another autumn at your doorstep.

If the memory is positive, you might dwell for a few moments in the happy feelings. If the memory is painful, it’s an opportunity to allow the feelings to swell up inside you until they bubble into tears and you notice how they roll down your cheeks like the leaves dropping outside.

As the leaves change color and fall, as you sit in front of a crackling fire, as you watch the golden, late afternoon sunlight cast itself across the yard, ask yourself, “What is it time for me to let go of?” And when the answer appears, throw it into the leaves and the fire and the sunlight and ask for autumn’s aid to help you let go.*

And remember this: the more you can name the deeper emotions embedded inside the anxiety, the quieter the anxiety becomes. And with anxiety shifting out of the driver’s seat, we can more easily harness the tremendous healing potential of this season.

If you’re in the Southern hemisphere, hang onto this for six months :).

Partially excerpted from my book, “The Wisdom of Anxiety.”

What are you noticing this autumn? What happens when you can name the top-layer messenger of anxiety and drop into the core, underlying emotions and invitations?



  1. It’s so funny you wrote this because I am feeling an enormous about of anxiety that I haven’t felt in a long time. It feels uncontrollable and unbearable. I am constantly pushing it away inside because it’s difficult to handle. I can’t sleep well but I want to sleep all of the time. No motivation to do anything. Constant stomach aches and I felt a terrible pain in my chest last night that scared me. Fear of death has been looming me lately. It actually led to bring up some unhealed and unshed grief about my grandma who died 19 years ago. Just weirdly all bubbled up. Terrible irritation, cannot get motivated at work. A lot of feelings of depression and restlessness inside my body. I can sense a lot of inside of me that needs to change and let go of but I’m lacking the courage or the will to do so. Which I know is see fear. (I can feel how deeply rooted it is right now). A lot around the care of what my parents think and possible decisions I will make/want to make/trying to make.. I’m 25 and I know that it’s normal around this age to be going through that.
    I’m currently still living with them due to financial reasons and if im honest with myself, not feeling ready to make that change to be on my own yet.
    Emailed different counselors to try and get a consult to help walk through these with all with me because I definitely feel I can’t do it alone.
    Thanks for all of your posts. They are on time as always 💜

    • Sending hugs during this time of grief and transitions, and I’m so glad that you’ve reached out to some counselors. We’re not meant to do life alone. ❤️

      • Thank you. That pierced my soul reading that. I can definitely feel your spiritual hugs! Thank you.

  2. Grateful for this post, Sheryl. I have also noticed an uptick in intrusive thoughts, rumination, and sadness. Thankfully I have been able to turn to your course material (currently BFFRA), and have also signed up for Trust Yourself. It’s so interesting how this work of getting deep, of remembering how to be, how to let go, how to honor the cycles, really happens in layers. For the past two weeks I’ve been redoing my apartment, and there has been lots of cleaning, sorting, and cooking (which I can avoid at times). But I’ve been really enjoying it lately! And the Responsibility section of Break Free from Anxiety has made a lot more sense. The material from Break Free from Relationship Anxiety helped me turn the mirror to myself, and then the Responsibility piece became clearer. Sometimes the layers become clearer to see, and ah, grateful for that right now.

    It feels so fitting that we’re in Autumn, where so much is going through the death process. I appreciate that your questions/prompts go deeper (when it’s easy to see the letting go question directed at relationships and so on). Seeing my sidewalk become filled with yellow/orange leaves reminds me that this twinge of sadness I carry now is part of this cycle, and that I’m dropping some leaves too. Thank you!

    • It’s so comforting to know that others go through the same thing. Although it makes me sad that it’s pain you are going through, it’s so encouraging to not feel alone. Thanks for your post. 💜 hope all gets clearer!

      Ps I agree that the responsibility portion is so difficult to grasp. Reading that sort of cleared some stuff up for me in my mind too. So again thank you to both of you!

    • Mayi: Thank you for sharing this, and I’m very pleased that you’re able to go back to the course material to lend deeper layers of clarity to your inner work.

  3. Thank you for your beautiful words. They brought tears to my eyes & a much needed release of deep emotion. 🖤

    • ❤️🙏🏽❤️🙏🏽❤️

  4. This is so beautiful, thank you!

  5. Thank you for this reminder. I too have been feeling more intense anxiety and the weight of everything right now. Just today I felt an unexpected sadness and grief over the of my grandparents last year. It makes sense to feel more sure this season.

    • Oh, this came right on time! I have had a long chat with a friend today, about my depression and intrusive thoughts who seems to be stronger in October. And it feels good to know that this is common. Three years ago I broke up with my now fiance in October, and I have the same anxiety about our relationship now. In October. I hope this does not mean that ut is him I need to clean out of my life. I think I need to dig deep to find out what lies deep down in me, that needs healing. I hope I’ll find it ❤️

      • October certainly seems to be a month of loss and grief for many people. You’re not alone. ❤️

  6. “It’s like the ancestors are closer during this time of year.” That really hit home for me. What is now known as Halloween was the ancient Celtic festival Samhain (which I found out recently is actually pronounced Saw-when), also called Witches New Year, and it is the day when the veil between the two worlds is the thinnest. I’ve always been very aware of that my whole life, it’s almost inevitable that I cry on Samhain, but I just feel a change in the energy. It’s like, I’ve never actually seen a ghost, but I know I’ve felt them. In fact, yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of a really good friend of my mom’s, so we lit a candle for him. AS my mom was lighting the candle, I felt a sudden energy surge, and I kid you not, our dog started barking.

    One thing about Samhain, though, is that growing up we always shied away from the death imagery (like skeletons, graves, things of that nature) as a kind of protest to Halloween. To be fair, modern Halloween does perpetuate a negative view of witches and witchcraft, and yes I agree that’s not right, but having recently tapped into the pagan Instagram world, I learned that a lot of people do in fact decorate with “spooky” stuff (not the gory stuff or anything, but things that are symbolic of death). I realized that’s actually a good thing, and the point of the Samhain, because it’s a way for us to ritualized and honor death as a part of the life cycle. So for the past couple of years I’ve tried to lean into that more, and I’ll be honest I’m not totally comfortable having those decorations in my room or anything, but I’m feeling better about having them around the house.

    I am a little extra- I don’t know if it’s sad, or contemplative… or have an extra sense of reverence for this year because it’s the first Samhain after my grandma died. It’s gonna be a little weird, I think, but she taught me what she knew to celebrate it, so I think we’ll do okay.

  7. I’ve definitely been soaked in these feelings lately but I could use some help in the stage that I’m at…

    I’ve been getting feelings of sadness, groundlessness and grief. I’ve been on a journey with RA for 5-6 months now. My intense anxiety started in a moment where I was starting to take more responsibility for myself by starting to work and building something by myself for the first time in a really long time. I had many stressors at that time. Then, after reading something that someone posted about leaving her marriage because she knew that cycle was over and being able to find her soulmate after that spiked me badly, I had a panic attack and my RA started.

    Fast forward to today: I’ve been doing the work to break free from anxiety + haven’t been able to work for months because of it. I’ve broken free a couple of times, and ended up feeling a neutral loving feeling for my partner and family, and confusion about my career, until now.

    I’ve been deliberating on what I want do to work now. Even though my anxiety is still there, is not as intense as it used to be and I’ve been meaning to balance things out by starting to take more responsibility with work.

    I just received a job opportunity and I’m actually excited about it (that’s a first for me, I’ve never gotten excited about work before). I decided to take it.

    However, a few days ago (exactly one day after that offer) I felt like “I broke free from anxiety” but it felt different. It was like a sense of something telling me that everything I’ve cared about doesn’t have meaning anymore, telling me to leave my partner, family and not take this job and get away from everything to explore the layers of soul. This is making me cry a lot, it’s breaking my heart, because it doesn’t make sense to me on many levels. I don’t know if I’m confusing things and taking them at face value or if this is true at all. It feels true but I don’t know if it’s one of the tricks that anxiety has played on me before. I’ve seen stories on this site where some people talk about similar things and I’m not sure if I’m absorbing their stories (I tend to do that very often, sometimes without knowing…).

    I’ve had brief, very brief moments where I feel like my regular self with excitement for my new job and neutral loving feelings for my partner and family.

    So, what do you think? Am I taking this at face value? Am I confusing things? I don’t know what to do anymore.

    I don’t want to leave my partner or my family or drop this new job. I’m confused and tired. I admit sometimes I run from it all because I feel exhausted of this game. I’m tired of this keeping me from falling asleep, staying asleep and waking me up with stings in my chest every morning. Please, help. I’m scared and sad.

    • Another detail: I also have separation anxiety. It’s hard for me to be away from my partner or my family. Taking this job would mean that I would have less time to be with them. The sense I’m describing comes up more when I’m alone. When I’m with them, it does come up but with varying intensity. But I do notice that it can diminish a little and sometimes it can totally go away (for a short bit) when I’m with them.

      Thank you for your work and your help, Sheryl + community. This blog has been a lifeline for me.

      • Oh and also, I have other stressors present in my life as well such as the virus situation. I live in the city and go to a couple of places during the week, like the gym (which I love and is like therapy to me, both figuratively and literally). They just started to ask for vaccination cards everywhere and those who don’t have it can’t go in. I’m one of those who has chosen not to get the shot because I don’t feel sure of it for many reasons. I’m waiting until things lighten up a little. The virus hasn’t been well managed here, neither have the vaccines…

        This is worrying me a lot, among other things.

        Could this be a part of it?

        And I’m sorry about posting so many times. As the day goes by and my anxiety moves, I remember details that I didn’t quite remember earlier. Thank you all again!

  8. Hi Natalie, I just read your post and really wanted to reach out to you. Not sure if you’ll see this, as your post was from last year but I was so touched by message and sad to hear how much you’ve suffered with anxiety around death and concern about your future.
    I just wanted to share some of things I’ve learned about death and living as a result of dealing with a severe, life threatening illness and surviving a
    near death experience as I thought they might be of help to you.
    During my near death experiences, I was taken to a place beyond this reality where I was met by my ancestors. They were very happy to see me and we’re very kind to me. I was given the choice to stay with them which was a very appealing option giving the pain I’m in, but I didn’t want to leave behind my loved ones, so I chose to come back here and carry-on living. But while I was there I was shown that there is nothing to fear in death or life. True death is really an illusion as your spirit or soul is internal and survives the death of the physical body. You are not your body, it’s just a beautiful vessel carrying your spirit through this life. My ancestors showed me that this life is just like a beautiful game in the school of life. We are here to have wonderful experiences and learn to know ourselves and to grow. I was shown that there is nothing for any of us to fear in life as we have chosen these experiences as soul development before coming here. That doesn’t mean that nothing matters-being loving and compassionate firstly to ourselves and then to others while playing is the key to winning the game of life. Living with authenticity, choosing to let go of fear and living brave are essential to our success. We must first embrace failure to succeed.
    I also received a very strong message telling me not to care or worry about what anyone else thought ever. We can never truly know what anyone else thinks in truth.

    I was told just how toxic self-judgement is in our lives, preventing us from living our dreams and finding true fulfillment.

    I know that your Grand Mother will be there waiting for you when it’s your time to leave this plane of existence just like my ancestors were there to meet me and that that won’t happen until it’s your right time to die.

    This time of year is a fantastic time to honour our ancestors and having a personal ceremony for them can also be a great way to
    allow ourselves to grieve some our losses.

    Fantastic to hear that you’ve approached some counsellors. I hope you found someone you have a good connection with. I wish you so much success on the path to freedom.

    Cheryl, thanks for another fantastic post.

    With much love and deep peace on the running wave to you all,


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