Does the extreme heat of the summer increase anxiety? It doesn't take much to check out the many forums and blogs on the internet about anxiety to find people asking that very same question. There doesn't seem to be much (if any) medical literature on the subject. However, for those that experience an increase in symptoms, it doesn't matter if there is documentation to back up what they know happens to them during the heat of the summer. As far as I could tell, there are a few reasons heat may increase symptoms of anxiety:
- Anything can be a trigger for anxiety
- Seasonal affective disorder, though more uncommon, can occur in the summer
- Heat intolerance symptoms are similar to anxiety and the presence of these symptoms can trigger an anxiety attack
Anything can be a trigger for anxiety
Jennifer L. Fee, Psy.D. writes, "...while anxiety may appear to come 'out of the blue,' actually there is always an underlying cause or 'trigger.'" This includes environmental situations, such as fluorescent lights, and other things "experienced by our senses." This can include heat. The heat of the summer can trigger unpleasant memories, and it can make us uncomfortable. Since it can cause emotional and physical discomfort, it can become a trigger for our anxiety.
While the heat and humidity of summer doesn't cause anxiety, it can seem to worsen symptoms if the underlying trigger is not identified and addressed. You may want to look into your past. Are there traumas that have happened during the summer months? We may not connect a long-past trauma with the anxiety we are feeling today, but it could be related. Our moods can change with the time of the year, depending on past events during that season.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is most common during the long winter months, but it can occur in any season. This is sometimes referred to as reverse seasonal affective disorder, which affects less than 1 percent of the population, and more women than men. Symptoms of SAD during the summer include agitation, loss of appetite, insomnia, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
Interviewed in a New York Times article, SAD expert Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal says he isn't sure whether summer SAD may be caused by a sensitivity to heat or too much light. "The challenges encountered with the changing seasons seem to overwhelm those internal regulating mechanisms," Rosenthal continued.
Treatment for summer SAD may be staying in air conditioning as much as possible or finding other ways, such as swimming or cold showers, to stay cool. Others may find antidepressant medications are the only way, or the best way, to overcome symptoms.
Heat intolerance is "the inability to be comfortable when external temperatures rise." Some of the symptoms of heat intolerance mimic those of anxiety, such as:
- Rapid pulse
Because these symptoms are similar to those experiencing anxiety attacks, it is possible that the symptoms themselves could bring on an anxiety attack as even the thought of having a panic attack can increase the likelihood of anxiousness developing into a panic attack.
"Heat Intolerance," Updated 2010, April 20, Updated by Ari Eckman, M.D., A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia
"Seasonal Depression Can Accompany Summer Sun," 2002, Aug 13, Sara Ivry, The New York Times
"What is Seasonal Depression?" 1995-2009, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation