How summer impacts your mental health

Mental health and business. Silhouette of young adult businesswoman.

Summertime…and the living is easy. For some, maybe not.

“The prevailing sentiment is that summertime is happy time, and that’s certainly true for many people,” says Benjamin Breeding, a behavioral health case manager with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “But for others, summer can be a challenging time of year.”

WellTuned spoke to Benjamin to learn about the various ways that summer might affect your mental health.

The positive effect of summer

Benjamin: During the summer, we have extended hours of daylight. This gives us opportunities for enjoying outdoor activities into the evening. We spend more time outside in the summer because the weather is warmer. So we can go fishing, hiking, visit local parks, do yard work, or even just sit on the porch.

When you spend time outdoors and soak up a little sunlight, you absorb vitamin D. This boosts connections between your neurons and increases the production of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Together, that leads to feelings of happiness and contentment. The increased activity and the sun exposure also contribute to improved melatonin production. This can help you sleep better at night.

The negative effect of summer

Benjamin: But summer is not all fun and games. You can actually experience seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, in the summer. The key is the word “seasonal”— the summer version of this type of depression is just tied to summer, rather than winter, when SAD is more common. If you have the summer-pattern SAD, your symptoms may start when the weather starts to warm up and progress throughout the summer. You may feel tired, anxious, or sad, and you may have trouble sleeping or eating normally. Some people even begin to feel aggressive and irritable when the temperatures rise. The good news is that there is treatment for SAD, no matter when it strikes.

Summertime stress

Benjamin: Even if you’re not affected by SAD, you can still experience stress during the summer that creates a negative effect on your mental health. Being active has many benefits, but you can unintentionally overextend yourself with too many summer activities. Paring down may alleviate some of the stress and remove the damper that stress puts on your mood. Try to resist the urge to fill in the open space left from the activities your family has when school is in session.

Try to identify the stressors so you can address them before they take a toll on your mood. Do you love hosting summer cookouts? Great! Stick with it if it brings you joy. But don’t feel pressured to continue hosting cookouts the rest of the summer if they make you feel anxious and tired. It’s okay to say no to things if they deplete your energy, don’t work with your schedule, or strain your budget.

Summer might also be a good opportunity to scale back on your social media use, if that’s affecting your mental health in a negative way.

Another stressor that might fly under your radar: your own health. Here’s a quick list of questions to help you assess the situation:

  • Are you so busy, taking advantage of the long summer days and warm weather that you aren’t getting enough sleep each night? It can be easy to fall out of a good routine, with the increase in daylight hours and activity.
  • Are you eating a healthy, well-balanced diet? Summer’s a great time to enjoy a bounty of fruits and vegetables that are in season.
  • Are you remembering to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays? Apply and reapply a broad-spectrum sunscreen and wear a hat, sunglasses, and maybe even some UPF-protective clothing when you’re going to be spending time outside during the daylight.
  • Are you drinking enough water? A well-hydrated body will be healthier and happier. Take water with you wherever you go.

Any of these, if neglected, can have both a physical cost and a mental cost.

If you’re still feeling down

Benjamin: If you realize that you are struggling, don’t struggle in silence. Reach out for support:

  • Talk with your healthcare provider,
  • access an employee assistance program (EAP) if you have one through work, or
  • seek out a counselor or therapist on your own.

Talking with a professional can make a big difference. Also, a healthcare professional can help you if you do have SAD or another condition that might require some kind of medical treatment.

Lastly, don’t feel pressured to make the summer “the best summer ever.” You don’t have to seek perfection or keep up with your neighbors to enjoy the summer. Rather, be kind to yourself, and your mental health will likely follow suit.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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