By Yoni Sobin, PsyD
In the winter, we face an increased risk of flu and seasonal depression, so we stay vigilant for contagions, stay warm, and keep engaged in activities with others (see my previous article on loneliness – https://www.centerforanxiety.org/2016/12/20/loneliest-time-year/). We typically overlook seasonal risks in the summer, but here are two concerns to be mindful of as the temperatures rise:
Almost everyone knows the value of protecting our skin against the sun, but protection against dehydration is equally important and often neglected. During the summer, the average adult loses over two liters of water daily through sweat (we have over two million sweat glands!) and other bodily functions. And this can impact our mental health – dehydration is associated with mood lability, poor concentration, depression, and anxiety.
A key strategy to combatting dehydration is using mindfulness to observe our body sensations and noticing early signs when we are running low on water. Low-grade headaches or muscle cramps, fatigue, lightheadedness, difficulty concentrating, and reduced urination or darker/yellower urine are some indications.
Behaviorally speaking, drink eight to ten glasses of water daily throughout the summer to facilitate an optimally focused and healthy mind. Eating foods like cucumber and watermelon are also excellent ways to stay hydrated. Sports drinks help restore electrolytes and body salts such as sodium and potassium. And if you’re exercising outdoors, drink at least 6 ounces of additional fluids each 30-minutes, and try to schedule activities in the mornings or afternoons when it is cooler outside. For beachcombers, while catching the sea breeze is a great way to cool down, remember to bring at least two liters of water per person since the sun’s reflection on the water surface significantly increases dehydration risk and ultraviolet ray exposure.
While seasonal depression tends to decrease during warmer months, many individuals still experience depressive episodes in the summer. One reason is that is easy to stay indoors and watch television or read a book in an air-conditioned room, and by contrast, the most effective tools for staving off depression are remaining active and maintaining interpersonal connections.
If you’re feeling blue during the days of sun, try to attend events or concerts outdoors. Go to a beach or find a water-based activity. Attend or even host a barbeque. Take a weekend vacation getaway with a friend or on your own. Google “free things near me today” and do one or two things that pop up. Try one new activity each week. Spend time in nature (while remaining hydrated, of course) and give yourself time to decompress your mind. Whatever you do, engage with your activities mindfully. Take note of sounds, sights, smells, sensations, and tastes.
If the weather is too hot to comfortably enjoy the outdoors and you find yourself binge-watching the West Wing or Big Bang Theory while sitting on the sofa, be sure to take at least a 10-minute break after each episode to walk around the block or call a friend. Research shows that sedentary activities increase depression risk, and punctuating the day with active blocks can make a big difference.
On the whole: While summer is a great time to relax, it’s important to remain mindful and never relax attitudes towards protecting our physical and mental health!