When the heat is too much, it can be hard to deal with. The sun brings us beautiful days at sea but for others these warm temperatures trigger sicknesses that make life difficult both mentally and physically.
The sun's rays may be harmful to your mental health. Alongside the existence of reverse SAD, heatwaves have been shown as being able trigger pre-existing anxiety conditions such as stress and depression by raising our cortisol levels which causes more symptoms for those who suffer from these ailments already.
Warmer temperatures can also be a “big trigger” for panic attacks, because the symptoms associated with heat – dizziness, palpitations and dehydration – mirror those typically experienced when someone is in a state of panic.
These symptoms can further increase your anxiety and feelings of worry.
However, it’s not just the heat itself that can cause anxiety to spike – the social expectations that come with a hot summer’s day can add to your worry, especially if you’re already feeling anxious about socialising after lockdown.
Added to this is the sense that we need to ‘make the most’ of the weather – another feeling that is likely to be heightened due to the pandemic, as it’s easy to feel like we need to make the most of our newfound freedom whenever the opportunity arises.
“Very often, the word ‘should’ can lead to a feeling of anxiety for some people,” explains Dr Rose Aghdami, a chartered psychologist and anxiety specialist.
“If you think you ‘should’ be enjoying a barbecue or you ‘should’ be outside all the time because it’s lovely weather for a change, then that puts a lot of pressure on you.”
While some people love nothing more than basking in the sunshine, if you find it hard to cope in the heat, you’re not alone. Of course, if your anxiety is making it difficult for you to live a full life, or you think you may have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to seek professional help.
In the meantime, though, we asked Harper, Dr Aghdami and psychologist Dr Zoubida Guernina to share their top tips for tackling heat-induced and summer anxiety. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Drop your shoulders and breathe
When you first start feeling anxious, Dr Aghdami recommends focusing on tackling the physical symptoms. Drop your shoulders, breathe out, then practise abdominal breathing (also known as low or diaphragmatic breathing) by taking low breaths into the belly, rather than high, shallow breaths into the chest.
By taking charge of your physical state in that simple way, you’ll be able to think more clearly – because no one thinks clearly when they’re in an agitated state.
Then you’ll realise you’ve changed something and made yourself feel more comfortable entirely on your own.
2. Take control of your surroundings
Don’t allow your anxiety to dictate what you do and where you go, but if you find that intense heat puts you on edge, there are steps you can take to feel calmer. While you can’t control the weather, taking charge of your own physical state can help prevent anxiety from spiralling.
Keep cool by drinking water, protecting yourself from sunburn and avoiding going out during the hottest hours of the day and try to connect with good friends and do things that you find enjoyable and relaxing.
3. Challenge ‘what-if’ thoughts
We believe our thoughts as if they’re facts, and anxious thoughts tend to be future-focused. They’re usually along the lines of ‘what if’: what if I can’t cope with the weather? What if I get really hot and faint?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on retraining a person’s way of thinking to ease their anxiety. A simple way of reaping some of the benefits of CBT, is to try to pick up on your “what-if thoughts” and remind yourself that they’re “mostly speculation.
Asking yourself questions like ‘what’s the worst that can happen? Am I being rational here?’ can sometimes help ease those what-if thoughts.
4. Practice positive self-talk
It might sound trite, but reminding yourself that you’ve got through anxious spells in the past can help soothe nerves.
Positive self-talk can help a person feels like they’re controlling their experience, instead of the weather or the temperature or their physical state controlling them.
If you’re stuck on a sweltering bus or in a hot bar and find feelings of unease creeping in, tell yourself that you’ll get through the experience, just like you have before.
Consciously thinking things like ‘it won’t last long’, ‘I’ve been hot before and I’ve managed it previously, so I can manage it again’ or ‘I’m feeling a little bit better now than I did before’ can all help manage feelings of anxiety.
Or – perhaps most comforting of all – remind yourself that hot weather never lasts long in the UK.