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5 tips on how to cope with summer when you have anxiety

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Don't let summer get you down.

The run up to summer is always the same for me. All my friends get more and more excited to lay in the sunshine, planning beach days and prepping their skin for their inevitable sun-kissed glow. It seems that ever since I can remember, everyone around me spent their whole year excitedly anticipating the summer months, yet I was the total opposite. I have always spent the whole year dreading the inevitable heat, beach body pressure, seemingly constant daylight and pressure to be doing fun summer activities every day.

In recent years I’ve come to the realisation that summer presents the perfect storm of situations that either trigger or perpetuate my anxiety. I’m by no means alone in feeling like this. Whilst it’s true that for most people anxiety levels are generally lower in the summer, for a small group of sufferers summertime spells trouble for their anxiety.

For me, I associate summer with the feeling of body shame I’ve carried with me since being diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia in my early teens. I used to feel my body bubble with nerves as I thought about spending all summer in teeny bikinis, constantly worrying about too much hair, too many lumps and bumps and not enough tan lines and curves in the right places. I still feel that sinking sense of dread when I think about spending most of the day feeling way too hot and sweaty, which makes my anxiety go through the roof, whilst I sit next to the fan longing for a jumper and hot chocolate season. Then there’s the pressure to be outside ‘making the most of the sunshine’.

For most people who have suffered with mental illness in the summer, you’ll know the sinking feeling of guilt and confusion at why you’re not out at festivals, at the beach or in sunny beer gardens drinking Aperol spritzers like everyone on Instagram. It’s much harder to take a mental health day in summer when everyone expects you to be outside.

For fellow summer anxiety feelers, I’ve compiled a handful of tips to help us through these long summer days, just until the leaves start to fall and we can feel human again.

1. Don’t Believe Everything You See on Instagram

Pressure creates a major stress and can trigger anxiety for so many people. It’s hard to focus on your mind, body and wellbeing when you’re surrounded by posts and pictures of people living their best lives on holiday or doing exciting summer activities all day, every day. Something that I’ve come to realise over the years is that social media is, for most people, a highlight reel. And most of us fall victim to doing this too.

You’re far more likely to take a picture of yourself at the beach bar with your friends in Spain and post it on Instagram than you are to post a selfie of you first thing in the morning, drenched in your own sweat with a mighty hangover and unflattering sunburn lines. We all use social media to post pictures that show us on our best days and in the best light, and we need to recognise that other people do this too.

When you see photos of seemingly perfect people in seemingly perfect moments, you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, and often we don’t know what’s been edited. So if you’re feeling guilty because your life doesn’t look like your Facebook feed right now, take a step back, realise that it’s just a highlight reel, and focus on doing what you need to do to make you feel comfortable and calm. 

2. Decide what summer means to you

At the end of the day, summer is just a big old cliché. Most people are just hoping that their summers will look like the summers in the adverts and in the films. But unfortunately, real life doesn’t usually look like Love Island or the Virgin Holidays brochure, and that’s totally fine.

Often when I feel anxious it’s because I’m stressed about letting summer slip away without making the most of the social, travel and seasonal opportunities that summer offers. What we need to remember is that summer and holidays should be about pure relaxation. If you feel most relaxed on the sofa reading a book, then you do you and have a brilliant summer. If you feel at your best partying in Ibiza with a group of brand new friends, then go for it and have the best time. If your idea of the perfect summer is walking your dog in the local park then calling in at your nan’s for a cup of tea, then do it every day and don’t think twice about whether you’re ‘doing summer right’.

Everyone’s idea of happiness looks different, so everybody’s summer should be a bit different too. Stop comparing your summer to what you see on TV or what your friends are doing. You alone define what the best summer looks like. Don’t pressure yourself into doing something that will trigger your anxiety and make you miserable. 

3. Sleep in a cool room and drink lots of water

Getting enough sleep and avoiding dehydration form the foundations of an anxiety-free day. Sleeping in a hot room can minimise the amount of quality sleep you get, and tiredness mixed with dehydration is the perfect storm for anxiety flare-ups. Luckily, this is usually a quick fix. By using a fan or a wet towel to cool you down at night, taking cold showers and by drinking and eating foods with high water content throughout the day, you can minimise the damage that anxiety can do to your summer.

4. Keep in touch with people who make you feel good

Another mistake that lots of people make is thinking that they should be spending lots of time with lots of friends or big groups of people, whereas for many of us this kind of lifestyle can be anxiety-inducing. Introversion and extroversion can play a big part in anxiety, and recognising and respecting your personality and social style can really help you curb those anxious thoughts and feelings.

If you’re a person who feels most at ease when hanging out in a big group of friends, or by spending a little bit of time with a lot of people, that’s totally fine and you should do that if it makes you happy and comfortable. But if you’re the kind of person who hates large groups and prefers more deep and meaningful coffee shop chats with one or two close friends, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

You’re not a better or worse person for being hugely sociable or more introverted. Acknowledge what works best for your anxiety and mood, and socialise in a way that suits you. Isolating yourself for long periods of time, even when you’re feeling anxious, isn’t a good idea. Humans are sociable creatures, and it might do you the world of good to have a quick catch up with a friend or family member, even if all you can manage is a phone call. Keep in touch and respect your boundaries.

5. Being active but don’t over exert yourself

Exercise might feel like the last thing you want to do in the summer heat, and I can totally relate to that feeling. But on the other end of the scale, staying sedentary all summer is not going to do your anxiety any favours. It’s true that exercise can help ease the symptoms of anxiety for lots of people, by helping to release built-up adrenaline and tension.

Don’t feel daunted by scheduling in a run at midday in the daytime heat, or put yourself off by packing all your gym stuff and sweating in the car before you even get to the gym. The morning and evening are great times to going on strolls as the air is slightly cooler. Surround yourself with greenery or walk near bodies of water like the sea or a river and take in a bit of nature to help ground yourself and ease your anxiety with some peace and quiet.

If a local gym is air-conditioned, have a look to see if there are any classes you feel like attending. If you haven’t tried yoga before, many people swear by it when talking about reducing anxiety.

So if your anxiety is at its worst in summer, please don’t spend your entire summer wishing the time away. Do what makes you feel happy, be aware of the deceptiveness of social media and stop comparing yourself to others! It’s your summer, so make sure you feel like you’re doing whatever you can do to reduce your anxiety.

As always, if you feel like it’s all getting a bit too much, speak to a GP or therapist who can offer some more ways to help you feel yourself again.

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