By Rebecca Holczer, PsyD
Summer is in full swing, and so are the air conditioners! With heat indexes hitting over 100 degrees in some places, we are all looking for ways to keep our bodies cool. While the summertime is traditionally viewed as a time to relax, it is actually quite common for people to face unique challenges with anxiety. So, many of us are also looking for ways to keep our minds cool as well.
For example, some of us have a harder time managing unstructured time, frequent family gatherings, being in large crowds (e.g. at the pool or beach), long car rides, and the heat itself can contribute to emotional unrest. At times like these, our bodies can enter into “fight or flight” mode, which can increase physical symptoms of anxiety.
Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, coined the TIPP skills, which can help cool our minds (and bodies) in the summer heat.
Temperature: When feeling anxious during the summer months, try putting your face under cold water for approximately 30-60 seconds, or even using a cold ice pack on your forehead. This can activate the “diver’s reflex” that can drastically alter our body’s state of arousal. Just take care though, because this can cause your heart rate to be reduced very quickly, therefore individuals with concerns about heart-related issues should consult with their medical providers before trying this.
Intense Exercise: Sometimes, when we are anxious, we also become restless, angry, and/or agitated. When this happens, and passive approaches to relaxation such as relaxation or breathing (see below) aren’t enough, try vigorously exercising for 20-30 minutes, ideally at 80% heart rate intensity for your age (hence the word “intense.”) This can cause strong negative emotions to decrease very quickly. Again, individuals with health conditions should check with their medical providers about exercise first.
Paired Muscle Relaxation (aka Progressive Muscle Relaxation): This simple method involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups (e.g., hands, forearms, biceps, shoulders), paired with relaxing breathing. Start by breathing in and making fists with both hands for 30 seconds, and then purposely let go while slowly breathing out. Then breath in again and tense both your forearms for 30 seconds, and then let go and slowly breath out. Depending on how much time you have, you could do 2 or 4 or even 6 or 8 muscle groups, one at a time.
Paced Breathing: Oftentimes when we are anxious, we tend to hold our breath and/or our breathing gets very shallow. So, one way to calm down is to breath SLOWLY (no faster than one in breath per 3-5 seconds, and one out breath per another 3-5 seconds). The emphasis should be on slowing the out-breath in particular since this is the part of the body that is most responsible for helping us relax.
As Dr. Linehan likes to say, “some skills work for some people, some of the time.” For this reason, try each one of these strategies at least a few times. You may find that some skills are easier to practice in some situations versus others (e.g. it may be hard to get an ice pack when you’re at a family BBQ without attracting too much attention.)
Wishing you luck in staying emotionally as well as physically cool wherever you are!