Summer and anxiety

Some people associate their happiest memories with long summer days and experiencing the benefits of the warmer months. However for people with anxiety disorders, the heat may increase their symptoms of anxiety, and the summer months can feel the most difficult to face. 

Feeling the heat 

Many of us will be familiar with the feeling of being ‘hot and bothered’ in extreme temperatures, but we might not realise there are biological reasons for this. Changes in melatonin experienced in the summer affect your daily circadian rhythms which can lead to trouble sleeping. Increased temperatures cause higher cortisol levels and palpitations, nausea, and fatigue.  

These symptoms can feel similar to a panic attack, which can make us more anxious when we notice them. Humidity can also cause symptoms of dizziness and dehydration. This can remind people of their past experiences of panic attacks and lead to increased feelings of fear and anxiety. For people who experience health-related anxiety, the reminder that heat can also hold health risks such as heat stroke can make anxiety worse. 

As well as the physical side-effects of heat, common allergies experienced in summer such as hayfever can also make us feel wheezy, tight chested and congested. These also, can mirror the symptoms of anxiety. 

On top of these biological causes of anxiety in the summer months, social expectations can also lead to mental stress. With increased daylight, summer is often a time for socialising and enjoying ourselves. Yet for people with social anxiety, body image concerns, or agoraphobia, this can bring additional pressure to be having a good time.  

Keeping cool 

It can feel overwhelming when our outside environment feels out of our control, and we feel like we can’t calm down in the heat. There are some simple steps you can take to ease anxiety in the heat:

  • When we are in a stuffy or humid environment, we may feel short of breath and dehydrated. Feeling anxious about being short of breath can make us breathe quicker. Practicing breathing techniques can ensure we’re breathing slowly and deeply, easing symptoms of anxiety.  
  • Hydrate. It’s a simple tip we all know, but the power of drinking lots of water can help ease symptoms of anxiety as well as physical symptoms of dehydration.
  • Understanding the connection between feeling anxious and the heat can help you to feel less anxious. Knowing that the heat amplifies symptoms of anxiety can help us to recognise and monitor symptoms that occur in hot weather. We can aim to recognise uncomfortable symptoms such as sweating or palpitations as our body’s natural reaction to the heat, rather than believing we are experiencing anxiety or a panic attack.  
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates the body, so combining alcohol with the heat can amplify heat exhaustion symptoms, and lead to further symptoms of panic and anxiety.
  • For people with health anxiety, it can be helpful to remind ourselves that our body isn’t necessarily in danger when we experience uncomfortable symptoms from the heat. Rather it’s just our bodies reacting normally, sweating to keep us cool and to make sure we drink lots of water.  

Ultimately, feeling increased levels of anxiety in the heat doesn’t mean we have to stay indoors all the time and avoid the sun. The hottest hours of the day are between 11-3pm, which leaves the cooler mornings and evenings as good times to exercise or socialise. 

If anxiety or isolation this summer is affecting your mental health, find out what support is available to you. To start with, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP, or mental health specialist at your GP practice, to see what support and treatment is available to you.  

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