Tips for Summer Wellbeing When Depression or Anxiety Strike
We're entering summer, a season often celebrated for its bright, sunny days, warm nights, and relaxed, carefree existence. That's the advertising and greeting card image, anyway. In reality, your summer wellbeing can suffer under new or heightened mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression. Mental health struggles in the summer are a very real thing. If you experience them, know that you're not alone, nor are you making it up. Here's a look at why and what to do about it.
Why Summertime Wellbeing Is Threatened by Anxiety, Depression
Summertime wellbeing might be hard to accomplish for some people. Many people are familiar with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes called seasonal depression. For some, when the intensity of the sunlight reaching the earth dwindles and hours of daylight shrink, many people experience new or intensified symptoms of depression. Sunlight helps the body produce serotonin, and it's so crucial for the mood that lightboxes mimicking natural sunlight are often prescribed for depression. (Other seasonal patterns of depression are also possible.)
Less known and understood is the relationship between increased sunlight and anxiety. Researchers are still working to determine why, but many people report that their anxiety and even panic attacks are worse during the summer months. Increased sunlight is also thought to be connected to manic episodes in bipolar disorder.1 Perhaps because our exposure to sunlight is more pronounced during the summer months, the light is more intense, or our body's natural circadian rhythms (our sleep-wake cycle) shift slightly, feeling more anxious, irritable, restless, or agitated during the summer is possible.
Depression can occur during the summer months, too. Just because it can increase with winter's low light doesn't automatically mean that everyone's mood automatically brightens with the sun. There are a number of practical reasons for this:
- New adjustments--Particularly for students, summer means change. It's a period of adjustment that involves a disruption in established routines.
- Unavailable support systems--Both high schools and colleges operate differently during the summer. People disperse. Activities are suspended for a few months. People you've come to rely on are either unavailable or have limited availability. Even if you're not a student, people, organizations, and activities are often different.
- Less structure and routine--While it may be a welcomed relief to operate on a different schedule for the summer, the lifestyle can be unsettling and feel unfocused. People of all ages need routines, and summer throws a lot of established schedules and procedures off.
While it is logical and perfectly understandable to experience new or increased mental health challenges during the summer months, you don't have to be doomed to experience three months of misery. Knowing the challenges that summer can bring positions you to do something about them.
4 Tips for Wellbeing This Summer
If you notice symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health difficulties, first, congratulate yourself for being so self-aware. Awareness is the foundation of action. Then, try one or more of these tips to enhance your wellbeing during the summer months.
- Maintain connections. Not everyone is readily available during the summer, but that doesn't mean you have to let your connections falter. Resist the urge to let your connections be "out of sight, out of mind." Actively continue to communicate with friends even if your relationships are now long-distance.
- Create purpose, meaning, and fun. Being involved in your community is a great way to fill the void left when your support network disperses over the summer. If you've taken a part-time job, make a point of making connections with co-workers. Consider volunteering with an organization or a single event that you feel passionate about. Participate in community events. Invite someone for coffee or ice cream. You don't have to have a jam-packed calendar or be a social butterfly, of course. Simply make it a point to do something fun and/or meaningful from time to time to avoid feeling withdrawn and isolated.
- Tune into your body. Notice patterns. Does a lot of time in intense sunlight make you anxious? If so, consider doing indoor activities during the brightest, hottest part of the day. Watch for signs of dehydration, too, as dehydration can affect your mood and motivation. Your body is a wise guide when you listen to it. Simply giving yourself what you need at any given moment can positively impact your summer wellbeing.
- Spend time in nature. Take advantage of the nice weather to get outdoors. There's a strong, solid connection between nature and mental health. Whether you prefer getting out in the morning, afternoon, or nighttime under the stars, whether you love water, woods, or strolls around your neighborhood, get outdoors regularly. Make it part of your daily routine to bring structure and predictability to your season, too.
Above all, forget about notions of what summer "should" be like, and allow yourself to be as you are in each moment. Spend your summer one moment at a time, accepting it for what it is and fully accepting yourself. This is the ultimate path to a mentally healthy summer of wellbeing.
- Cho, C-H., and Lee, H-J., "Why Do Mania and Suicide Occur Most Often in the Spring?" Psychiatric Investigation, March 2018.
Peterson, T. (2021, May 26). Tips for Summer Wellbeing When Depression or Anxiety Strike, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, September 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalhealthforthedigitalgeneration/2021/5/tips-for-summer-wellbeing-when-depression-or-anxiety-strike
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS
I love your tips for summer wellbeing! This is one of those all-too-common, and yet, rarely spoken about things. We easily attribute depression or general mood disruption to something like the winter season, but summer is often painted with a permanent "happy" brush". For the reasons you shared, and others, of course, we know this isn't true. Love that you including tuning into your body! Such a powerful tool for so many things and reasons.