How to protect your mental health in Sussex this summer

We often associate summer with that beach-ready, care-free, happy feeling.

But that isn’t always the case for everyone.

Summer can be a particularly difficult time of year for lots of different people for a list of reasons.

We might see a lot of campaigns about how to keep yourself feeling brighter in the darker months of the year, but it’s not often that we hear about how to look after our mental health in the summer.

It’s important to talk about how we can keep ourselves safe and healthy during the summer period, and to raise some awareness of some of the ways that our mental health can dip in the hotter months of the year.

What is Mental Health?

We hear the phrase ‘mental health’ all of the time.

But what does it actually mean?

The World Health Organization says that mental health is a state of wellbeing.  

This means that mental health can be good or bad.

It’s important to notice that ‘mental health’ means something different to ‘mental illness’ or mental ill health.

Whilst everyone has mental health (which can range from being steady and positive, or a bit more difficult) not everyone has a mental illness, as that is when we experience symptoms that could be diagnosed as part of a condition by a specialist.  

That being said – we can all experience poor or low mental health at times. 

That means its very important to identify the things that can have an impact on our mood (ether in positive or negative ways) so we can try and keep things on track. 

Mental Health Conditions: Two Common Experiences

Two of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions are anxiety and depression. 

The mental health charity Mind report that 1 in 4 people (that’s a quarter of the population) report that they experience issues with their mental health. 

3 out of every 100 people are diagnosed with depression every week

For anxiety, this number rises to 6 out of every 100 people.

Because anxiety and depression are so common, it’s very important to know the signs of these conditions. 

Knowing the symptoms is the first step to being able to identify if either ourselves or our loved ones need some further support.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

Depression is classed as a mood disorder, because it affects the way that we feel.

We can all feel low at times, and that can be difficult.

But depression is more than just feeling sad.

We can separate symptoms of mental health conditions into three categories:

Mental, Physical & Behavioural signs.

The main mental or emotional signs of depression are:

  • Feeling very low or sad
  • Feeling a strange ‘empty’ or ‘hollow’ feeling
  • Feeling hopeless or overly negative 
  • Feeling easily irritable or angry 
  • Feeling intense guilt 
  • Feeling very tired and having little energy 
  • Finding it difficult to focus on different tasks 

The main physical signs of depression are:

  • Finding it difficult to sleep (either over sleeping or insomnia)
  • Over or undereating (which can lead to weight loss or gain)
  • Pain in the body that isn’t related to other conditions

And the main behavioural signs of depression are:

  • No longer engaging with activities or hobbies that you enjoy, or finding that they do not feel fun anymore 
  • Feeling so low that you’ve thought about hurting yourself 
  • Feeling impulsive 
  • Increased use of drugs and alcohol
  • Withdrawing from loved ones 

If you experience these symptoms and find that they persist for over a few weeks, there is a chance that you are struggling with depression, and may benefit from formal support.

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

Anxiety is a bit of an umbrella term, because when we say anxiety, we could be talking about a range of different experiences. 

We can all feel worried or stressed at times, but anxiety itself feels a bit different from the kind of worrying we might experience in our everyday lives.

The different kinds of anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Phobias

Like depression, anxiety has a range of Mental, Physical & Behavioural signs we can look for

The main mental or emotional signs of anxiety are:

  • Feeling on edge 
  • Feeling irritable, things feel more frustrating like your fuse is shorter than normal
  • Feeling like your thought are running away and you can’t control your worries
  • Feeling convinced that something bad will happen
  • Finding it hard to focus 

Meanwhile, the main physical signs of anxiety are:

  • Feeling very tired 
  • Having frequent pain, including headaches, stomach ache, or tension pain in the muscles 
  • Feeling sweaty 
  • Pain in the chest
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Tingling in the skin

The main behavioural signs of anxiety are:

  • Avoiding certain things 
  • Panic attacks 
  • Becoming more withdrawn and staying at home
  • Avoiding confrontation 
  • Fidgeting, finding it hard to sit still 
  • Finding it difficult to speak 

What is Summertime SAD (Summertime Depression)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): What is It?

You might have heard of something called SAD. 

It stands for seasonal affective disorder, and is something people experience in the winter months. 

Researchers have identified that SAD is a drop in mood linked with reduced levels of sunlight. 

If you find that you have a cycle of depression where you dip into a low mood in autumn and winter, but associated symptoms alleviate in other parts of the year, you might be experiencing SAD

Summertime SAD

While this accounts for bouts of depression and low mood experienced in the darker parts of the year, it doesn’t really explain why some people can experience a similar dip in mood during summer.

Winter SAD is linked with lower light.

In summer, there’s lots of light – so why can summertime SAD happen?

Well, SAD is known as a type of ‘major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns.’ 

This means that the seasonal patterns could take place at any time of the year for different people. 

This all suggests that a proportion of people could be struggling with summertime SAD. 

How Hot Weather can Affect Your Mental Health

When you think of the summer, you might think of holidays spent on sun loungers, days at the beach – music, barbeques, spending more time with your friends.

But for some people, summer isn’t as relaxing as it can be for others.

Summer can come with it’s own set of pressures that can affect our mental health in different ways. 

The key components of this tend to fall into three categories –

  1. Sleeping 
  2. Eating
  3. Anxiety 

Sleeping

It’s not uncommon to struggle sleeping in the summer.

With the longer days and brighter nights, our sleep cycles can struggle to adjust.

Some people also find it harder to sleep when its warmer in the night, as it can be more difficult to get comfortable in the heat which can cause sensory discomfort, irritability and broken sleep. 

This can happen especially in places like the UK, where air conditioning systems are less common in the average household than they are in other countries. 

For some people, this can lead to insomnia, which itself can mean dealing with lethargy or intense sleepiness during the day.

Lack of sleep can also lead to us having a shorter fuse than normal, which can lead to tension or stress.

Anxiety

Summer is usually linked with an uplift in mood and a general care free feeling.

But for some people, summer can bring a mix of various worries to the surface. 

The summer months can lead to worries about childcare and potentially about the stress of financing days out and fun activities for our kids during the school holidays.  

It can also generally cause financial strain, as we may feel that we either need to spend beyond our means to have a ‘good summer’, or may feel upset when we are unable to source the cash for lavish holidays, parties or trips that we see other people having. 

Some people call this ‘summer fomo (fear of missing out)’.  

Another summer anxiety is related to body image.

Lots of media sources will begin talking about how to get ourselves ‘summer ready’.

This can be very distressing for lots of people, and particularly risky for those who struggle with body image and low self-esteem

Change in Appetite

Our appetites in summer can change for several reasons.

Some of us just find that we’re not as hungry when it’s hot, and find it harder to eat or even to prepare meals or ourselves.

Others might consciously try to eat less during summer to follow a new diet or lifestyle change. 

Eating less when it’s hot can lead to a decrease in both physical and mental wellbeing, and leave us feeling more tired, with less energy and reduced motivation.

Dealing with Heatwaves: How to Cope in Hot Weather 

Looking after ourselves is important all year round; but it can be particularly essential in summer, when we may forget to do the things that keep us feeling safer, but still satisfied. 

Here are some top tips on how to keep yourself feeling physically and mentally safe in the summer:

  • Wear sun protection (SPF, hats or headwear, sunglasses)
  • Wear clothes that keep you feeling cool (lighter, floaty fabrics in light colours)
  • Increase your water intake (if travelling, take water bottles with you just in case)
  • Have a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have 
  • Make sure you eat enough (keep an eye on your fruit and veg intake)
  • Use fans or open windows where possible 
  • Keep blinds or curtains shut to help rooms stay cool 
  • Take breaks from the sun to rest in the shade 
  • Try to limit your screen time (take breaks from social media, silence notifications from certain apps or temporarily remove them from your phone)
  • Make time to see friends and family 
  • Remember that you do not need to spend money to have a good time (find ways to have fun at home, or on a budget)
  • Try to resist peer pressure 

How to Protect Your Kids’ Mental Health this Summer 

We might not think of it at first, but summer can be difficult for kids, too.

Coping with Empty Time

The concept of having weeks (or even months) of free time might sound like a dream to us adults, but for some children the empty expanse of time can feel quite overwhelming.

For this reason, it can be helpful to have a schedule of activities so your child knows what to expect and has things to look forward too.

You might develop a routine, such as going to the library or the park on the same day every week to help give them some structure. 

Socialising 

A lot of parents worry about their children going out for hours at a time. 

A survey by charity Save the Children found that just over a quarter of children (27%) play outside the home, meaning that almost three quarters of children do not play outside.  

To reduce this anxiety and still ensure your child gets to socialise, you could arrange play dates with other parents, or host your child’s friends at your house to give them a safe space to get together. 

Some people also use tips such as reducing screen time by limiting access to phones and tablets can help children that could be struggling with comparing their summer to their peers, and allow them to have some time spend in the moment.  

How To Reduce the Amount of Alcohol you Drink in the Summer 

The recommended units of alcohol that a typical adult should drink is 14.

Exceeding these 14 units, or drinking heavily several or most days in the week will mean that your intake is risking becoming too high.

14 units might be around 6 pints of beer, or 10 small glasses of wine.

In summer, the amount that people drink increases.

Studies show that although December is the month where Brits tend to drink the most, we typically enjoy the most alcoholic drinks during the summer period.  

This can be because we’re relaxing on holiday, because the weather is pleasant and we can spend time in our gardens or in beer gardens, or because we’re enjoying time off and relaxing with our friends. 

The popularity of all inclusive holidays can also lead to increased alcohol consumption, as the temptation to get our money’s worth by drinking more can lead to regular bing e-drinking. 

British holiday makers have earned a reputation for this ‘party hard’ mentality.

Know the Risks

While the idea of going out and letting our hair down by drinking in large volumes can be enticing, it can also lead to a risk of dangers, such as:

  • Hospitalisation due to alcohol-related illness
  • Severe dehydration 
  • Increased risk of accidents in or around pools, cliffs, or other parts of the summer landscape frequented in the summer months
  • Risking being ‘spiked’
  • Developing a dependency 

Between 2021 and 2022, 342,795 people were admitted to hospital for alcohol-related illness.  

This can due to a range of health complications, including severe dehydration, alcohol mixing with prescription medications or interacting badly with other drugs, liver and kidney issues, accidents, and even from blackouts. 

If you feel you have a serious issue with alcohol, then consult one of the excellent alcohol rehab providers in Sussex, such as Rehab Recovery and Change Grow Live. 

Alcohol-Free Ways to Unwind 

It’s tricky to say no to alcohol when it feels like such a tempting treat.

The idea of a cold beer, glass of wine or a fruity cocktail at the end of a long day, for most people, sounds like the perfect way to unwind. 

There’s nothing wrong with doing this from time to time, but drinking every evening could lead to health complications, and could potentially be having negative effects on your mental health. 

But, there are many other ways we can decompress without drinking.

Finding sober activities can be helpful for several reasons-

  1. Because they help decrease your alcohol intake 
  2. Because they may help sober friends and family members feel included
  3. Because it gets us thinking more creatively about different ways we can spend our time 

Some examples of ways to unwind without alcohol you might like to try include:

  • Set up a new evening routine you can look forward to at the end of the work day
  • Keep on top of your home, so it feels like a cosy and relaxing space to come home to
  • Having a ‘mocktail’ night with your friends 
  • Having a themed evening, such as ‘bring a board’
  • Cooking something from scratch, like pizzas, or trying out a new recipe
  • Reading something for yourself (something not work related, such as a novel)
  • Limiting your screen time in evening 
  • Swap out alcohol for the occasional sweet treat
  • Find a method of exercise that makes you feel good
  • Find a new hobby that you’ve never tried before – either solo, or with a friend

Everyone’s ways to unwind will look different, and there’s no right or wrong way of doing it.

As long as your activity helps you to feel good and isn’t harming yourself or others, then however you choose to relax is a matter of personal choice. 

Finding healthy coping mechanisms instead of drinking can decrease your risk of falling back into heavy drinking behaviour, or switching the drinking for another risky activity. 

Top Things to do in the Summer to Protect Your Mental Health 

Summer for many people conjures images of barbeques, cold pints, beaches and late evenings out with friends. 

When we’re so busy, it can be really tricky to find the time to plan activities. 

This means we can get stuck in the same cycles, doing the same things, which can often be bad for our mental health.

Adding a bit of variety can help diversify your summer, and help us feel that we’re doing something a little exciting and special.

That excitement can be a very handy tool in helping us get motivated and pushing past those sluggish feelings that can come with low mood and anxiety to try something new.

Finding a new activity and having a scheduled plan can help us to both protect our mental health and fill our days with fun.

Here’s a list of popular activities that you could engage with during the summer:

  1. Creative writing
  2. Journalling
  3. Walking
  4. Going to the beach
  5. Seed planting 
  6. Drawing
  7. Mindfulness
  8. Cycling 
  9. Connecting with friends & family 
  10. Using the 1-2-3 self-care rule (sticking to the basics, planning self-care into your schedule, saying no to things that may not be helpful for you)
  11. Maintaining a health sleep schedule 
  12. Protect yourself from the sun 
  13. Drink enough water & stay hydrated

Choosing 2-3 of these activities every Sunday to try and complete the following week can be an excellent way of making sure that you take care of yourself and focus on self-care this summer.

Things to do in East Sussex and West Sussex this Summer 

South East England is a wonderful; part of the country.

East and West Sussex have a wide range of places you can visit and things you can do during the summer, right on your doorstep.

Often when we live somewhere we can forget how great it is, and think that visiting places is just for tourists. But in East and West Sussex there are a range of places and attractions you can visit as a local.

With a range of castles and historic houses, zoos, galleries, gardens, theme parks and beautiful landscapes, in Sussex, there’s something for everyone.

National Trust Sites 

You could visit the range of National Trust sites in East and West Sussex, including:

Visit the Coast

Sussex is surrounded by beautiful coastline. 

Along the Sussex coast are a range of seaside towns with stunning views of the seascape. 

Popular spots include Rye and Camber, Eastbourne, St Leonards, Seaford and Brighton. 

Cultural Spots

With everything from Wakehurst (a wild garden ran by Kew), Paradise Park, Tangemere Military Aviation Museum and The Royal Pavilion, there’s a cultural spot for all tastes and ages in and around Sussex.

Where to Get Help 

Summer, just like any time of year, can be tricky.

If you find that summer is a difficult time for you to navigate, it’s essential that you know where to turn if things get tough.

If you or a loved one are struggling with your mental health this summer, there are a number of different ways you can access support.

You could reach out to:

  • Trusted friends and family 
  • A colleague 
  • A community support group
  • Your GP or other primary care clinician 
  • Social services
  • Emergency support lines
  • Specialist mental health and addiction services 

Summer isn’t easy for everyone, and that’s nothing to be ashamed by. 

By reaching out for the support you need, you can take the important steps forward to protect your mental health this summer.

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