Aside from what we could do to keep ourselves safe from the heat physically, there is much to consider when we examine how the summertime can affect our mental health. Gouri Mukerjea, R.S.W., a mental health counsellor from Sherbourne Health, discusses some of the ways summer can affect our mental health while providing some insight on what we can do to promote body positivity and mental wellness.
Oftentimes when we discuss how seasons can affect our mental health we tend to focus on the colder months, but what impact does the summer months have on our mental health, especially during a heat wave? And how can the summer heat make it even more difficult for those living with a mental health disorder especially during a pandemic?
Mukerjea: Extreme heat can have significant effects on mental health and behavior. There is evidence linking extreme heat with aggression, mood, cognition and insomnia. Seasonal change can create imbalances in anyone who lives with a mental health disorder. Depression and anxiety can aggravate with long days of summer, heat, and humidity. Dehydration from being in the heat can cause brain functioning to slow down, affecting the mood.
Additionally, COVID has led to confinement and loneliness which could amplify existing conditions. Access to air conditioning and drinking water can make a difference.
Summer is here and even with a pandemic there is an increase in social activity. A lot of the time with social media we can be overwhelmed with seeing posts online of everyone having fun while you are at home. How can one combat the fear of missing out? And do you think that there is an increased pressure to be social during the summer months?
Mukerjea: The social pressure to go out and have fun in the summer months is real. Seeing others going out, doing fun things in the sun can lead to high levels of anxiety. It can be stressful not being able to participate in a summer vacation or outdoor activities due to limited finances or health. Fear of missing out can be dealt with by restricting time on social media, setting aside a certain time of day to check all social media, practicing mindfulness (that refers to a nonjudgmental observation or awareness that is focused on the present experience) and practicing gratitude.
Summertime can be difficult for those that struggle with their body-image especially with the lessening of clothing. How can someone practice body-positivity to improve the way they feel about their bodies?
Mukerjea: Body positivity involves developing acceptance and appreciation for one’s body. It can be practiced by thinking positively about one’s body and using only positive statements to describe oneself. If there is a negative thought, one needs to restructure it into a more positive one.
One of the major goals of body positivity is to address some of the ways that body image influences mental health and well-being. Having a healthy body image plays a role in how people feel about their appearance and even how they judge their self-worth.
Feeling well physically can affect how one feels mentally and emotionally. Eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise is something that can assist in improving these feelings.
What are some of the ways we can take care of our mental health during the summer?
Mukerjea: Staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and regularly exercising can help mental health. With COVID around, protecting oneself in social isolation is necessary. This can be done by connecting digitally with people or keeping a safe distance while meeting them. During extremely hot weather one needs to be in a cooler indoor environment. But try to engage in summer activities to the extent they can, during the cooler parts of the day. It would also be good to keep a lookout for symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, intrusive thoughts and worries, fatigue, heart palpitations, nausea and shortness of breath and reach out for professional help if needed.