Summer is often seen as a time of fun, relaxation, and vacation. However, for many people, it can also be a source of stress. The change in routine, increased number of social events, hot weather, and propensity for travel can all contribute to feelings of anxiety.
In this blog post, we'll explore some practical tips and tricks for managing summer anxiety so you can truly enjoy stress-free summer months.
Anxiety is a normal emotional and physical response to stress. Everyone feels anxious from time to time. However, when anxiety becomes excessive, chronic, uncontrollable, or disproportionate to the actual threat, it can start to interfere with daily activities and interrupt your quality of life.
When you think of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you most likely associate it with the winter months. For many people, SAD consists of increased feelings of anxiety, depression, or sadness due to the winter gloom created by shorter, colder days. However, SAD does not only affect people during winter. It can bring about negative feelings and symptoms during warm weather as well¹.
One study found that opposite symptoms may occur between those who experience SAD during winter and those who experience it in summer. Winter depressives were more likely to have "increased appetite" and "hypersomnia" while summer depressives typically saw "decreased appetite and insomnia²." Though the symptoms may be different, both sides of SAD are normal and treatable.
Some of the most common reasons for summertime anxiety may include:
Social events and gatherings
Travel and change in routine
Fear of missing out (FOMO) on summer activities
Body image concerns
Financial stress related to summer expenses
Changes in hormone levels caused by extreme temperatures
Aside from the changes in your normal routine and increased social pressures that often occur during summer, there may be another factor that sometimes brings about more anxiety for biological reasons: hot temperatures.
Warmer weather can be a great motivator for many people to spend time outdoors with family or friends. However, the higher temperatures characteristic of summer heat in most places can also cause a spike in cortisol levels³. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is often referred to as the "stress hormone" because it plays a vital role in the body's response to stress.
When a person encounters a stressful situation, cortisol is released into the bloodstream as part of the body's "fight-or-flight" response. It helps prepare the body to respond to the stressor by providing an energy boost and increasing alertness.
Some of the physical anxiety symptoms we will explore below can feel very similar to your body's response to cortisol. For that reason, the increase in cortisol that may occur in your body from spending time in the summer heat and humidity could aggravate pre-existing anxiety or bring about anxious feelings.
Anxiety can affect everyone differently. However, there are some common types of anxiety symptoms you might begin to notice. Let's explore a few of those symptoms now.
These are physical responses to stress you may feel in your body while experiencing anxiety.
Increased heart rate
Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
Chest tightness or discomfort
Trembling or shaking
Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Muscle tension or aches
Fatigue or low energy
Upset stomach, nausea, or digestive issues
Emotional responses to stress may appear alongside physical symptoms or entirely on their own.
Excessive worry or fear
Feeling restless or on edge
Racing or anxious thoughts
Irritability or agitation
Feeling a sense of impending doom or danger
Trouble sleeping or experiencing disturbed sleep patterns
Panic attacks (intense periods of fear and physical discomfort)
One of the best ways to manage anxiety is to prioritize self-care. Self-care refers to deliberate activities and practices that individuals engage in to promote their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It often involves taking proactive steps to prioritize personal needs and maintain a healthy balance in various aspects of life.
Self-care activities can vary greatly depending on individual preferences, but here are a few tips to help you start taking better care of yourself during the summer months.
Poor sleep patterns can interrupt your body's circadian rhythm and exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Try to make sure you're getting adequate rest even though it may be difficult in warmer temperatures.
Beat the summer heat at night by:
Keeping your bedroom cool. Close the curtains or blinds during the day to block out sunlight and heat. If you don't have access to air conditioning, open windows and create a cross breeze by placing a fan near the window at night.
Using breathable bedding or cooling technology. Opt for lightweight bedding materials such as cotton or linen sheets, which allow for better airflow and help wick away moisture from your body. Invest in a pillow or mattress topper that has cooling properties like gel-infused foam.
Limiting heat sources. Turn off or unplug electronic devices and appliances that generate heat, such as lamps, chargers, or computers, before going to bed.
Staying hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Keep a glass of water by your bedside in case you wake up feeling thirsty during the night.
Cooling down before bed. Take a cool shower or bath before bedtime to lower your body temperature. You can also use a damp towel or a spray bottle filled with cool water to lightly mist your skin and create a refreshing sensation.
It's easy to fall into a pattern of unhealthy eating during the summer months. Cookouts, gatherings, and refreshing cool treats are hard to resist. Feel free to indulge in your favorite summer snacks in moderation, but be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet as well. Eating nutrient-dense foods can help support your mental health by nourishing the brain and fighting back against the effects of long-term stress⁴.
For those dealing with social anxiety, the warmer months can be a nightmare due to social pressure from increased gatherings and interactions. These tips may help you manage feelings of anxiety and cope with various types of warm weather social expectations.
Summer is the season of social gatherings. Be kind to yourself by practicing these strategies for managing your anxiety in social situations:
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to socialize or be the life of the party.
Practice mindfulness. Stay present in the moment and focus on your surroundings rather than worrying about what others may think of you.
Take breaks when needed. Step outside for some fresh air or take a break in a quiet room to recharge.
It doesn't matter who you know. Even a reunion full of family members can feel like an insurmountable obstacle for those dealing with social anxiety.
If you have family events coming up this summer, try to:
Set boundaries and communicate your needs. Let family members know if you need some alone time or if a certain topic of conversation upsets you.
Focus on the positive. Instead of dwelling on past conflicts or negative interactions, try to focus on the positive aspects of your relationships with family members.
Social media also contributes to anxiety during the summer. From unrealistic social expectations to unattainable body standards, too much scrolling can make you feel guilty or inadequate.
As you take steps to prioritize your mental wellness and prevent anxiety, remember to:
Take breaks from social media. Limit your time on social media and take a break if you find it is making you feel anxious or overwhelmed.
Keep in mind that social media is curated. Don't compare yourself to others' highlight reels and remember that what people post on social media is often not the full story.
With hot temperatures and extra vacation days, summer can be a great time for travel. However, traveling can be a source of both fun and anxious feelings.
Here are some tips for managing general trip-related anxiety:
Prepare in advance. Make a packing list, plan your itinerary, and research the destination ahead of time to reduce uncertainty.
Practice breathing exercises. If you experience anxiety during travel, practice deep breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques to help calm your mind.
Flight anxiety, sometimes referred to as aerophobia, is common among many adults. In fact, research indicates that nearly 25 million American adults experience some level of flight anxiety⁵.
If you are among those 25 million adults, these tips may be able to help:
Bring a distraction. Bring a book, magazine, puzzle, or other item to keep you occupied during the flight.
Practice relaxation techniques. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, or other relaxation techniques can help calm your mind during the flight.
Are you driving to your destination this summer? Don't worry! We have tricks to help you overcome road trip anxiety as well:
Break up the drive. Plan regular stops along the way to stretch your legs, get some fresh air, and break up the monotony of the drive.
Bring snacks and water. Staying hydrated and fueling your body with healthy snacks can help you feel more comfortable and calm during the drive.
If summer anxiety is interrupting your fun-filled warmer days, remember that it's important to seek professional help when you need it.
Therapy or counseling. Talking to a mental health professional can help you develop coping strategies and manage symptoms of anxiety.
Support groups. Connecting with others who are going through similar experiences may reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of community.
Online resources. There are many online resources available for general mental health support, such as apps, forums, and educational websites.
Summer can be a wonderful time of year, but it can also be stressful and anxiety-provoking. By prioritizing self-care, managing social anxiety, and seeking help when needed, you can reduce feelings of anxiety and enjoy a stress-free season. Try to take things one day at a time, practice self-compassion, and prioritize your mental health as much as possible.
(1) Wehr, T.A., et al. (December 1987) Seasonal affective disorder with summer depression and winter hypomania
(2) Wehr, T.A, et al. (December 1991) Contrasts between symptoms of summer depression and winter depression
(3) Mental Health UK (2023) Summer and anxiety
(4) Selhub, Eva (September 2022) Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food
(5) Cleveland Clinic (February 2022) Aerophobia (Fear of Flying)