The temperature is starting to rise, the days are getting longer, and more activities are moving outside. The neighbors have started gardening, hosting crawfish boils, and cleaning up their barbeque grills, and that means that summer is almost here. While summertime is relaxing and fun for some, it can also be a time of year when people are prone to the summertime blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to the change of the seasons. While most people are aware of SAD affecting people during the Fall and Winter months, it can affect people in Summer as well partly due to fact that the days are getting hotter. In fact, a 2018 study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that both suicide rates and social media posts using language signaling lower mood increased as average monthly temperatures rose in the United States and Mexico.
While there are many triggers that may bring on a case of the summertime blues, one is extreme heat. As the temperature rises, it is easy to become cranky and agitated. Scientists have found that there are emotional effects to the hot and humid temperatures that living on the Texas coast can bring. The steamy temperatures can make you feel irritated and affect your sleep cycle.
Those of you who know me, know that I am an outdoors type of girl. I love hiking, bike rides, and walks along the beach, but a few years ago I suffered from heat exhaustion. I had gone for a walk along the coast with my sister that was just a little longer than my usual walk when I started to feel nauseated, dizzy, and weak. What I noticed was that when I started walking again, my body didn’t work the same way it did before the heat exhaustion. I had to take breaks. I judged myself because I felt my body was limiting me, and I quit walking.
I’d like to remind you of some of the basics for staying cool during the summer and then move on to some emotional methods to combat SAD.
1. Drink a glass of water. Dehydration can cause you to become crabby, so if you notice your mood shifting, let your first go-to be to grab a glass of water and hydrate.
2. Ice your pulse points. When you find you are overheating, place an ice cube on your wrists and the sides of your neck. The blood vessels in those areas are situated closer to the skin’s surface, and the cold from the ice cube brings your body’s temperature down more rapidly. If you don’t have access to an ice cube, you could keep cold, wet towels stashed in a freezer on hand for a fast cool down.
3. Take a nap during the warmest part of the day. “According to Dr. Mary Kaland, a licensed psychiatrist with Lehigh Valley Health Network, an increase in sunlight can disrupt your circadian rhythms – your body’s natural internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. As a result, you may find it harder to get adequate sleep, which can then negatively affect your mood.” Taking an afternoon siesta with a circulating fan may just keep your mood stabilized and prevent fatigue during the day. While some people may protest your absence, it is acceptable to remove yourself from the heat when you start feeling cantankerous. Plan activities during the morning and late afternoon to avoid the afternoon’s scorching heat.
4. Turn on a fan during sleep times. It is harder to sleep during the summer because our bodies get hot and sticky, and that can make going to bed a challenge. If you are unable to fall asleep because you feel uncomfortable, then you are not going to get the much-needed benefits that come with deep sleep. Adding a fan to your bedroom to circulate the air while you sleep can help to keep the stickiness at bay without incurring the extra cost of dropping the air conditioner’s temperature.
5. Don’t eat too close to bedtime. When you eat too close to bedtime, then your body temperature increases to accommodate the digestion process. Nutritionists recommend that there is at least three hours between your last meal and bedtime because it disrupts the sleep cycle in addition to the increase in sunlight. Try to avoid any late-evening snacking to keep the sleep processes from becoming disrupted.
When you struggle with a negative body image, summertime may increase feelings of anxiety and body insecurity, which adds to the summertime blues. Many people aren’t what society deems as “beach body ready,” and that can cause hyper fixation on what a person feels are their imperfect parts. Some women like to hide their imperfections in layered clothing, and that is hard to do during the summertime, but I built my self-confidence through practicing the following.
1. Make a list of what you find attractive in a person. How a person’s body looks is not usually a quality that someone looks for in a friend. Some endearing qualities are a sense of humor, similar interests, being a good listener, and demonstrating compassion, empathy, and respectfulness towards others. The truth is someone’s physical body is rarely a trait that makes the important friend-quality list. The trick is to believe that is true for you as well.
2. Be aware of your internal dialogue and supplement with affirmations when it is negative. The voice in our head is often not a very nice one, and an important part of self-care is actively monitoring self-talk. If your internal dialogue is more critical and focused on how you look, then it is easy for harmful behaviors, e.g., eating disorders, to appear. However, if you flip the internal dialogue to a more positive voice, then you empower yourself and you increase your motivation to succeed. I have been many sizes, but I have always been me. Part of my recovery from an eating disorder was realizing that I am not my body. When I flipped the dialogue, I found that I could express myself without focusing on my “outer shell.” When I did that, I realized that I was tapping into my authentic self.
3. Stay away from social media. While social media is a large part of today’s culture, consistently scrolling through posts can impact your self-perception because it prompts you to compare yourself to others. If you come across a picture that triggers negative self-talk, remember that images on social media tend to be filtered – sometimes heavily filtered. If you follow someone who is always posting images that make you question your value, then it is acceptable to unfollow that account. You can change your algorithm to see only posts that lift you up. Find pages that celebrate all body types and join those communities.
4. Ice your vagus nerve to relax. When you start feeling anxious, try stimulating your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve spans from the top of your head down to the bottom of your stomach region. When you are anxious, you can apply a cold compress to your chest or even the back of your neck for up to 15 minutes, and it sends the signal to your body to slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure resulting in a sense of calm.
5. Seek professional help from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a life coach professional. If none of the suggestions above help relieve your body-specific summertime blues, then please seek help from a professional that can coach you through it. Therapy can help you explore all the factors that have contributed to your body image. Sometimes finding someone who is compassionate and listens to you can help you replace your negative body image.
Whether your summertime blues are brought on by the heat, a negative body image, or a combination of both, there are ways to overcome them. Identifying what triggers the blues and finding ways to combat it could set you free. It is ok to put personal healing on the top of your summer to-do list. This summer conquer those blues and make beautiful memories with your family and friends. Don’t let the heat or negative self-talk prevent you from enjoying what the summer months bring and get out there and live life the happy way.