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Kerry Hill

School Improvement Partner

  • National School Improvement Partner
  • Specialises in Primary Leadership, Closing The Gap, Wellbeing and SMSC

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Supporting Summer Anxiety

We are more aware after recent events of the impact that anxiety can have. You might expect things to be easier over the summer, with the hot weather and chance to get outside, but the summer can actually be a source of anxiety for many children, young people and adults.

Recent research has suggested that anxiety levels can be linked to increasing heat. Summer anxiety is also now recognised as a seasonal disorder and can be known as 'seasonal anxiety', 'heat intolerance anxiety' or 'seasonal affected anxiety'. There are both biological and behavioural reasons for why anxiety can rise in the summer months, including:

  • An increase in body temperature can affect our heart rates, metabolism, respiration rate, blood pressure and perspiration rate. All of these can affect how effectively our body works. We can become more tired, lethargic and more irritable.
  • There can be reductions in blood flow to the brain as blood is directed to our skin to help us cool down, again affecting our mental capacity to process, reason, and think.
  • There can be an increase in headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness and other biological symptoms as a result of increased body heat.
  • We can lose the ability to emotionally regulate, causing us to become more anxious.

 

Some things to be aware of:

Dehydration

The amount of fluids carrying essential water and electrolytes reduces as our rate of perspiration increases; we need these essential fluids to help us focus, concentrate, be attentive, think and process information, and that becomes harder when we are dehydrated. 

Try to ensure you are regularly drinking plenty of fluids, especially water. Try to avoid high sugar drinks, as these can over stimulate the body. Encourage children and young people to drink regularly, or have easy access to water.

Our body's stress response

Our bodies produce stress hormones when we go in to ‘fight, flight, freeze' mode. Chemicals like adrenalin and cortisol are released from our brain, increasing our stress response. Research has shown that our cortisol levels actually go up in the summer, increasing anxious thinking and affecting our brain's ability to function effectively, by dulling our ability to reason, process and use higher order skills like executive processing. Our stress response is also linked to our nervous system, which again heightens feelings of anxiety.

Try using 'mindfulness' techniques like meditation, breathing and relaxation exercises like visualisation, yoga, or an activity that helps you to be at peace. Journaling can also help you reframe negative thoughts and increase positive thinking. Another positive step might be to talk to others about what is worrying you.

Difficulty sleeping

In hot weather it can be more difficult to fall asleep, or to have unbroken sleep. With less sleep we find it harder to self-regulate and our stress response is triggered: our bodies are not getting enough rest and recovery time and the cortisol levels can cause increased anxiety, mood swings and irritability; it also affects our ability to concentrate when we are tired. Try to ensure rooms are as cool as possible by opening windows.

Increased fear of missing out (FOMO)

With increasing social media activity, or time for people to get together and socialise 'in real life', other people can feel they are missing out. Try to avoid being highly active on social media, and take 'digital detox' breaks to manage this sense of FOMO. Plan time with others when you can. If finances are tight, plan cheaper alternatives like meeting up in a park or going on a picnic (with appropriate sun protection!) or popping round to a friend's house for a cuppa and a chat.

Transition anxiety

Over the summer people often become anxious about upcoming transitions like moving to a new school or job. This is linked to so-called 'anticipatory' stress.  Again, using 'mindfulness' techniques can support this, as well as visualisation or trying to keep things in perspective. Try and make links with new colleagues or ensure effective transition arrangements for children and young people to their new education setting, so they have time to adjust and prepare for the changes. Talk to children and young people about what is worrying them, and strategise about how to overcome these worries. TT Education has a short course available on supporting transition with top tips to be aware of to help manage the process successfully.

Climate anxiety

With increasing awareness of climate change, hotter temperatures can raise our anxiety about the problems with our environment. Whilst there is limited research on this area, you could try taking part in an activity or try making a change in your lifestyle that might make a positive impact, like reducing water usage, increasing recycling or reusing, or unplugging appliances that you would normally leave on standby (which still uses electricity). Why not have a summer project in school and encourage environmental projects, or link with charities like 'Tap and Toilet twinning'?

Other ways to manage summer anxiety:

  • Avoid large amounts of caffeinated or sugary drinks: this will stop your body feeling over-stimulated.
  • Limit alcohol intake: alcohol can increase our body’s temperature. 
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothes that allow your body to ‘breathe’: discourage children and young people from wearing thick, heat-retaining clothes.
  • Limit your time in the sun and plan regular indoor activities on hot days.

 

Importantly, if you feel your anxiety increasing at any time of year to levels that you are struggling with, seek support or reach out and speak to someone.