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  • Writer's pictureAlisha MacIsaac

Surviving Summer: Tips For Handling the Hardest Parts of the Hottest Months


While the summer for many is a time of fun, getting outside, enjoying warm weather and doing adventurous activities, individuals with different mental health needs or physical limitations can find this time of year difficult. Summer can present many challenges that go unseen and unacknowledged. Keep reading to find out how these challenges might be impacting you and learn tips to feel your best this summer. 


The Flip Side of Sunshine


Social Pressures 

Summer is a time where there is a lot going on - traveling, camping, spending time with friends, leads to a never ending buzz of activity. For some, these activities can be wonderful ways of practicing self care, and enjoying time with loved ones. For others, these activities can increase pressures to socialize and spend money, increase exposure to situations with drugs and alcohol, increase feelings of guilt for “wasting a nice day”, and can sometimes be overstimulating, triggering or feel unsafe. 


Feeling Exposed

To adjust to rising temperatures, the first thing we often do is switch up our wardrobes from pants and sweaters to shorts, t-shirts and bathing suits. This transition can be very distressing for someone who feels uncomfortable in their body. This can include, but is not limited to, people who experience body dysmorphia, eating disorders, gender dysphoria, illness or disability, low self-esteem, or for those who may have self-harm scars or whose bodies are changing. The comfort and safety of hiding behind baggy clothes or long sleeves can be difficult to maintain in the warmer months, and finding ways around this while staying comfortable can be difficult and anxiety inducing. 


It’s Hot Out Here 

If you are someone who takes medication for your mental health, then you may have a more difficult time regulating your body temperature in hot weather. Several medications used to treat anxiety, depression, mood and personality disorders act on the part of the brain that responds to changes in temperature, and can impact the body’s ability to respond to these changes. This can lead to sweating too much, or not enough, an increased risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Common medications that behave this way are SSRI’s, benzodiazepines and antipsychotic medications. 


Although excessive sweating can be a side effect of medication, people can sweat for many reasons, and some sweat more than others. This may not bother some people and  they may not think twice about it. However, if you have social anxiety, you might be worried about your body odor, or appearance of clothes, and sweat stains, which can be a barrier to going out and enjoying yourself. Or maybe you are someone with sensory sensitivities, and sweat is something that is an uncomfortable physical sensation. Or perhaps you struggle with thoughts related to cleanliness, and sweat feels dirty to you. For those who struggle with sweating and heat regulation, sleep can also be extremely difficult in hot weather. Something that may seem a normal and natural d may be extremely distressing for others. 


Sunny Setbacks

Another potential side effect of many of these medications is increased sensitivity to sunlight. So, you guessed it - A higher chance of sunburn. This is not something that everyone will experience, but if you are someone who burns easily, or have noticed an increased sensitivity to the sun since beginning medication, the two may be connected. Bright, direct sunlight can also be overstimulating!


Reminders


You don’t have to like summer! Whether due to sun, heat, sweat, bugs, public pools, it is ok to not be ecstatic about this change of seasons. We often associate summer with a time of freedom and fun because of summer breaks growing up, but it is ok if you prefer to stay inside and engage in indoor activities until fall!


While, yes, the ultimate goal is to love our bodies and appreciate ourselves as we are, many of us are still on that journey, and might not get there by “shorts season”. If you don’t feel comfortable in your skin just yet, that is ok! Be open to finding ways that work for you, and allow you to feel comfortable in your skin now. Give yourself grace.


Tips 


  1. When taking prescribed medications as mentioned above, it can be helpful to review the potential side effects of your specific prescription, and discuss with your doctor if you have concerns. 

  2. Stay hydrated. Find a water bottle, cup, or mug that helps you remember to drink water, (whether because it is easy to throw in your bag, looks cute, or  has motivational stickers and time stamps reminders). Setting reminders on your phone can also help you remember to stop and drink throughout your day. Also, water is good to keep us hydrated, but we also need electrolytes and sodium, so options like sports drinks or water additives are a great option (especially if you aren’t a fan of drinking plain water). 

  3. Opt for clothes that are thin and lightweight. Often we think “the less clothing I wear, the cooler I will be”, but the material, weight, and colour of your clothing all affect how they hold in the heat. Find pieces of clothing that are loose, breathable and light coloured so you can stay cool even if you want to be more covered up. 

  4. If you find clothing pieces you like for the summer, buy multiples, so getting dressed is not as time consuming or stressful, and you know the material and fit will be comfortable - one less thing to worry about!

  5. Use cooling towels, blankets, sheets, vests or neck rings. Cooling blankets and sheets can be used indoors and at night to help with sleep. Cooling towels, vests and neck rings are great portable options for during the day.  

  6. Carry a portable fan, whether battery operated or manual. The dollar store is often a great option for things like this! Neck fans are also an option and are meant to be used hands-free so they allow for more mobility. 

  7. Alternate between time in the sun and the shade. If you are someone who loves the sun, you can still soak up your vitamin D, but be mindful of spending long periods of time in direct sunlight. If you like to be outdoors and hike or go to the beach, consider bringing an umbrella and a hat with you. Another option that some might find appealing are pop up tents for children or families, often used for the beach, that provide good sun protection and can provide some comfort and privacy in outdoor areas.

  8. Start your day with sunscreen and set reminders to top up throughout the day. This may be a difficult adjustment for some, especially if you struggle with the feeling of sunscreen on your skin. To help remove barriers to sunscreen use, try sprays, mists, gels, or roll on applicators for a different sensation when wearing and applying. 

  9. If you are trying to avoid using alcohol or other substances, be mindful of where you are going and with whom. Parties, concerts, bar patios, and family events may be places with higher temptation, and greater exposure. If you are planning to go to events, make a plan ahead for yourself. This may include choosing what you will drink when offered, bringing your own drinks, having things prepared to say if people offer you something you may not want, identifying people that you feel comfortable staying sober around, and having an exit plan.

  10. If you find yourself struggling with these, or any other challenges at this time of year, consider reaching out to arrange a session with one of our therapists for support.

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