Summertime blues, surely not?
We’ve all heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) relating to the long, dark, cold, days of winter, but can you experience SAD in summer?
Well, there’s plenty of research that shows a significant proportion of us go through the summertime blues. Summer is supposed to be about sun, fun, getting healthy, losing weight and relaxing holidays.
But that may be exactly the problem – our hopes and expectations for the idealised summer are often not matched by reality and that can result in disappointment, anxiety and can even trigger depression. This can be worsened by the perception that everyone else is having a better time than you are.
At the most basic level, it’s often simply the weather itself that doesn’t come up to expectations – highly likely given the unpredictable British climate. That said, meteorologically speaking, there is just as much rain and cloud in summer as there is in winter. There’s just that perception that it’s drier and it really ought not to ‘rain on my parade’.
Summer also means we feel the pressure to expose more of our bodies to the sunlight, which are likely to be pale and shapeless from the long and covered-up winter. Social media, magazines, holiday brochures and television all portray images of the fit, tanned and toned bodies that we’re supposed to have, but the reality is mostly, embarrassingly different.
Having to display a body that you’re really not happy about can set-off a whole array of underlying psychological issues and anxieties. Many people struggle with their perceived body-image all-year-round – it’s just that summer lays things bare – literally.
Magazines and websites in spring are full of diets aimed at shedding those unwanted pounds and tips for getting ‘beach-ready’. But so often the dieting leads to frustration, failure and self-loathing when the time to reveal all on the beach arrives and the flab is still lingering.
For most people though, summer isn’t about beaches, time-off or foreign travel. It’s more about slogging to work as usual, but in crowded, hot trains, in choking traffic jams or with your nose pressed into someone’s armpit in a packed Underground carriage. The heat magnifies the stresses that are already there, and tempers more easily snap.
Work goes on, but summer brings more intense feelings of, ‘I really don’t want to be here’. The lunch-time break in the park (if you’re lucky) can add weight to that nagging question, ‘Is this really all there is? And then there’s the lunchbreak pint in the sun or glass of wine in the pub garden after work; the figures show increased consumption of alcohol in the summer compared to mid-winter and drink-driving offences are higher. Recent history shows heat, booze, long summer evenings and festering urban friction can lead to civil unrest.
For those at home with school-age children, summer can be an exasperating and expensive time. Typically, children will have six or seven weeks away from school and need to be looked-after (by someone) and probably entertained/occupied. The days of being able to send kids out all day and let them amuse themselves, climbing trees or having picnics are probably gone forever.
Summer can be a time of anxiety for teenagers themselves. For the extended years of education, the summer months are mostly associated with revising for exams, sitting them and then worrying about the outcome. Barely a year from the age of five through to 21 or beyond in further education will be without exam anxiety, given the emphasis on testing and grading – and always in the summer.
There are more physiological reasons why certain people might experience summer sadness. Long hours of daylight can be very disruptive for sleep unless bedrooms are blacked out. With windows left open through the night, noise from neighbours can be a problem especially in our increasingly crowded and 24-hour society. There’s no doubt that sleep-disturbance, particularly in summer, is having a greater impact on physical and mental health.
Dealing with the summertime blues is the same as tackling all of life’s challenges – its about accepting what you cannot change and getting to grips with those things you can change on a day-to-day basis.
You cannot change the weather, only how you react to it, dress for it and prepare for it. It’s also about getting as much out of the seasons as possible – noticing the wonderful little changes –trees, flowers birds, the feel and smell of the air and so on. Being aware of the moment and being grateful that you are conscious of it, is an important step in improving mental well-being.
The seasons so quickly change. Think of it this way as you read this… in five weeks’ time, the days start getting shorter again, the nights draw in – there are only 28 weeks to Christmas!