Key Takeaways

  • Fall is a temporal landmark, a moment that influences how we see and use time, and tends to boost people’s motivation.
  • Many people see fall as a time for a fresh start, perhaps due to long-held associations with going back to school in September.
  • Psychology experts say we can maximize the mental health benefits of the season by spending time in nature, setting goals, and prioritizing favorite activities. 

If you’re not a die-hard fan of fall, chances are good that you know someone who is. They can be spotted sipping pumpkin spice lattes, snapping photos of the vibrant foliage, and savoring sweater weather. 

But is there something deeper than autumn’s colors and flavors that make people downright obsessed with this season? Perhaps, according to psychology experts, who say there are some distinct qualities of fall to which people feel deeply drawn.

Fall’s Fresh Start Effect

Fall can fit into our lives in a similar way to that of a birthday or a new year. They’re all temporal landmarks, or moments that create a structure for how we see and use time.1

“Temporal landmarks divide life into distinct mental phases. They allow us to put in the past negative experiences and propel a fresh outlook,” says Yasmine Saad, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder and director of psychological services at Madison Park Psychological Services.

Temporal landmarks divide life into distinct mental phases. They allow us to put in the past negative experiences and propel a fresh outlook.— YASMINE SAAD, PHD

Research shows that experiencing temporal landmarks can boost motivation to pursue goals.1 And in fall—a season we’re socially conditioned to associate with going back to school—that motivation may be directed toward our careers in adulthood. 

“As young kids, we learned that the fall is filled with new people, places, and opportunities. It’s when we got all of our new school supplies and were excited to dive into new activities. That association stays with us into adulthood,” says Ronit Levy, PsyD, director of Bucks County Anxiety Center. “There is a feeling of excitement and promise in the air.”How Does Orange Influence Your Moods?

Other Psychological Reasons We Love Fall

Our obsession with fall may go beyond the season’s status as a temporal landmark, though. Part of it may have to do with the comfort of getting back into a steady routine after summer.

“During the summer, people tend to travel for vacation and have less predictable schedules. Once fall starts, most people resume their everyday routines, making it easier for friends to get together and socialize. There is a comfortable routine that this season brings,” says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind.

The weather may also present some mental health benefits. The cooler temperatures and spectacular foliage encourage us to spend time in nature, which has been connected with improvements in our happiness, wellbeing, relationships, and sense of having a life purpose.2 

“In addition, with cooler temperatures comes clarity of thinking, in contrast to the fogginess associated with warmer temperatures,” says Dr. Saad. 

Plus, swapping out our summer clothes for cozy fall gear can take some of the pressure off our physical appearance, says Dr. Levy. In that way, we can be more at ease with our bodies and ourselves. 

“Depending on where you live, fall usually means the end of swimsuit season. People tend to feel more comfortable about their bodies and appearance in the fall because they’re wearing more or bulkier clothing,” she adds. That, combined with the social acceptance to indulge in Halloween candy and decadent fall foods, means “there’s less body shame and pressure to diet in order to maintain a picture-perfect, beach-ready body.”

People tend to feel more comfortable about their bodies and appearance in the fall because they’re wearing more or bulkier clothing.— RONIT LEVY, PSYD

Speaking of Halloween, it’s just one of many holidays we look forward to this time of year. Just around the corner are Thanksgiving and the major winter holidays, and we begin to anticipate the celebrations and gatherings with loved ones almost as soon as summer ends.

“Holidays can have you feeling nostalgic, which can play a role in people’s excitement for the upcoming months,” says Dr. Hafeez. “We tend to create unconscious associations with specific times in our lives that make us the happiest.”What Your Favorite Season Says About Your Personality

Making the Most of the Season

Considering the array of benefits fall can bring to our lives, it can be a particularly opportune time to focus on our resilience and stave off the winter blues.

“Fall is the time to gather all that we need to go through the winter. Psychologically, it means looking at our mindset and coping skills to endure the darkness of winter,” says Dr. Saad. “Are you equipped to deal with negative emotions and thoughts if they were to come your way? This is your preparation time.”

Everyone’s preparation can look a little different, but here are some suggestions of ways to boost your wellbeing this fall:

Get Outside

Whether you’re picking pumpkins and apples, taking your kids trick-or-treating, or going on hikes, spending time in nature can offer a mental health boost. “Getting outside and enjoying the fresh air is a natural way of raising the oxygen levels in your brain,” says Dr. Hafeez. “A rise in oxygen tends to release more serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes happiness.”

Map out your goals

Since fall feels like a fresh start and a time of increased motivation, it can be an opportunity to figure out what you want to focus on in the upcoming months. Determine what your goals are, why these missions are important to you, and specific steps to make them happen. Completing goal-setting exercises now can also help you stay on track if you begin to feel stagnant in the winter. 

Make time for things you love

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can begin to set in this time of year. One thing you can do to feel better is making time for your favorite activities,3 such as reading, getting together with friends, making art, and playing sports. If you’re feeling depressed, you may also consider connecting with a mental health professional for additional support.

What This Means For You

Ever wonder why many people are downright obsessed with fall? It might be because autumn is considered a temporal landmark, a psychological concept that refers to events (like birthdays and seasonal changes) that change how we see time. It makes us feel more motivated to take on new challenges and enjoy the bounty of the season.

With the winter blues looming around the corner, fall can be an opportune time to strengthen our resilience and emotional wellbeing, experts say. Consider spending time in nature, mapping out your goals, and prioritizing your favorite hobbies this season. If you begin to feel depressed or you just need some additional support, reach out to a mental health professional.

By Joni Sweet

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