We have been experiencing soaring temperatures over the last couple of weeks. Here in England we’re having a heatwave so let’s put on our shorts, light the barbecue and get merry because it’s finally summer!
However, this is when yet another mental health stigma creeps up on us. Unfortunately, those of us who have a mental illness are still battling on even with the glorious sun shining down on us. In fact some of us will discover that even more problems arise at this time of the year so I’m going to outline some of these issues and suggest some ways in how we can survive summer.
Ok – so this isn’t an exclusive problem to those with a mental illness. Heat can be overwhelming, claustrophobic and can give us blinding headaches.
All the usual warm weather health advice applies such as loose clothing, sunscreen and drinking plenty of water because keeping hydrated is not overrated.
Loss of Appetite
With an illness like depression, BPD, or an eating disorder we often have a loss of appetite despite the outside temperature. Add that to the fact that the hot weather often leaves most people feeling less hungry and we’re going to become grumpy, irritable and susceptible to fainting. We all know how food can have an impact on our mood. Who hasn’t experienced the pangs of Hanger?
Sticking to a food plan or some sort of routine can help as you think less about the choice of eating and it becomes more of a natural necessity. Try to eat regularly even if it’s just lots of fruit and salads and you definitely deserve that scoop of Cookie Dough Ben & Jerry’s.
The hot weather can mean that there are some uncomfortable, sticky nights to endure and that our sleep may become disrupted. Sleep affects our moods and our illnesses so it’s essential to get the adequate amount (6-8 hours a night).
Continue with sleep hygiene and a routine bed-time. Even if you can’t sleep, try reading or listening to music to unwind. To lower the temperature, keep a window slightly open or maybe even get a fan. The longer hours of sunlight can be an issue too so get an eye mask.
Dressing for summer can make us even more vulnerable as we tend to wear less clothing leaving us feeling rather exposed. This season tends to amplify anxiety over body image insecurities. There seems to be an urgent obsession to have the “perfect bikini body”, meaning that even those who are uber confident find it challenging not to become critical of themselves.
Personally, I struggle with being body positive and it’s something I’m working on. Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in a world where we weren’t ashamed of our own bodies? The reality is that we come in all shapes and sizes and we always will so let’s stop this culture of body shaming. We’re seeing a gradual increase of body positive social media profiles. I personally love the inspirational Instagram feeds of @positively.kate and @bryonygordon . I’d also suggest a bit of retail therapy for a short-term fix. Treat yourself to some brand new summer clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident. Think of it as an investment for your self-esteem.
Wearing less clothing can be an issue for those of us who self-harm. I certainly feel ashamed when I see my scars and unfortunately there is a stigma around self-injury.
We need to remind ourselves that our scars are signs of our fight for survival and that we’re healing. Natural oils such as coconut oil help reduce the visibility as can make up. I use Vichy Dermablend as it’s a good camouflage brand. If you do self-harm, have a look at these distraction techniques.
There tends to be more social events in the summer from weddings, to BBQ gatherings and we feel that we have to attend them. It’s difficult to avoid the social expectations of going out and making the most of the good weather even when in reality, we just want to stay at home Netflix-bingeing on Orange Is The New Black.
There’s a misconception that as soon as summer arrives, our depression or anxiety vanishes, but it doesn’t. I’m not suggesting that you hibernate throughout the whole of summer but it’s ok to decline an offer to a social gathering if attending is only going to cause more harm for yourself. For those of you who don’t have the burden of a mental health issue but have friends or family who do, please avoid the following statements because we already know how to feel terrible about ourselves and do not need you to reinforce that:
- “Why don’t you want to go outside? Come on, it’s so nice out. You need to make the most of this weather!”
- “Why won’t you come out with us? You can’t not come!”
- “Don’t you like having fun?”
- “Stop being such a downer.”
Self-care practices apply to all seasons, so ensure that you do make time for YOURself and to do things that YOU enjoy. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is. What matters is now because it’s your time to focus on recovery so that you can enjoy the summers of the near-future.