Temperatures rise in the summer months—but so can anxiety levels. An online poll carried out by AnxietyCenter.com found that 73% of respondents have more symptoms of anxiety during the summer, and experts believe there are various factors at play.1
Some people find that their mood habitually dips in the lead-up to summer, while others may have concerns about spikes in COVID-19 cases during warmer weather. Here are some of the reasons you might experience heightened anxiety during the sunny season.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Most of us probably associate seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with winter, and indeed it’s much more common during the latter part of the year.
But SAD is defined as a type of depression related to changes in seasons, and some people experience it in the spring or early summer, per the National Institute of Mental Health.
Summer-onset seasonal affective disorder is sometimes called summer-pattern SAD or summer depression. Symptoms may include trouble sleeping, poor appetite, weight loss, agitation or anxiety, and increased irritability.
“Summer is a very unique time of the year, when a lot of people tend to travel and partake in outdoor activities. This change in circumstance can cause some people to go out of their comfort zones, and also make some people particularly anxious,” says Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.
Too Much Sunlight Is Not Good For You
Sunshine is often celebrated for its mood-boosting effects, but some people may become anxious when they get too much sun.
There’s a scientific reason for this—too much sunlight switches off the production of melatonin, the hormone that powers the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (known as the circadian rhythm). If someone has summer SAD, they may find it difficult to sleep as much as they need to.
Additionally, hotter temperatures during summer may increase anxiety and irritability in people with summer SAD.
Summer and Climate Anxiety
Climate anxiety is when someone feels nervous or worried regarding the consequences of climate change and its effect on the future of this planet, explains Lagoy.
Many parts of the world experience extremely hot weather during the summer, which is attributed to climate change and may make people feel more anxious about environmental issues than at other times of the year.
While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence about climate change anxiety (CCA), there are few empirical studies to date and therefore a shortage of evidence on any link between CCA and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Also, the majority of the research focuses on children and young people.4
If you feel anxious about climate change during summer, Lagoy suggests taking part in activities or making lifestyle changes that will make a difference, from switching your vehicle to an electric or clean model to joining a local environmental organization, where you’ll meet others who share your concerns.
Lingering COVID-19 Worries
For many people, gone are the carefree days of summer travel, whether that’s international vacations or local day trips. The COVID-19 pandemic has provoked anxiety around summer activities, notes Carol Winner, MPH, public health expert and founder of social distancing brand Give Space.
“COVID-19 is still with us and widely unreported because of the success of home testing, so although fun is in the air, so is COVID-19,” Winner notes. “What’s reported is only a fraction of what is occurring.”
And even though restrictions have largely been lifted and it’s “back to normal” for most, the mental health impact of the pandemic as a whole shouldn’t be underestimated.
According to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO), global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the pandemic, and the long term impact of COVID-19 on mental health services remains to be determined.
Ways to manage COVID-19-related summer anxiety include watching your sleep patterns, staying hydrated and out of the intense sun, and enhancing communications with family and friends, says Winner.
Plus, of course, take all possible safety precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones from infection, such as wearing a mask in large crowds and indoors with people who are unvaccinated (“yes, it is very OK to ask,” Winner adds), and when traveling on planes and public transportation.
“This can work to protect you and support your desire and need to be in control of your health,” says Winner. And don’t stress if you get the side-eye for wearing a mask—you don’t need to answer to anybody else.
FOMO (fear of missing out) is more than a digital buzzword. A study led by Oxford University in the UK found that feelings of FOMO can have a negative impact on both general mood and overall life satisfaction.
These feelings are exacerbated by increased awareness—through social media—of how our friends and family (and people we don’t know but follow online) are spending their time.6
Lagoy thinks FOMO increases during the summer because of social media, with many people doing exciting things like traveling and taking vacations, and eagerly documenting every moment on their social platforms.
So if you’re scrolling through post after post of an exotic location with nothing to look forward to yourself, you might feel an increase in FOMO.
Simply engaging in social activities with other people will help lessen FOMO during the summer months, Lagoy says.
Summer anxiety can come in different forms, but it’s helpful to remember that there are always ways to cope.