Most teens look forward to the day school lets out for the summer. No more getting up early, doing homework or having to worry about tests. It is a time of the year that is supposed to be filled with fun, sun and relaxation. For some teens (and adults) with anxiety, though, this time of the year is filled with increased anxiety.
There are many different things or situations that can trigger higher levels of anxiety and these triggers are often personal - different for each person based on their individual circumstances or past situations. For some, summertime is a trigger.
While the reasons for this might be different for each person, some possible causes of increased anxiety during the summer school break might be:
Lack of structure - You might worry about tests and prefer not doing homework or going to school each day but these things gave your days structure. You knew what you should be doing and when you should be doing it. Summer changes that, especially if you don’t have anything planned or don’t have a job. Without the structure you might feel lost.
Summer is supposed to be fun - You might see this statement as filled with pressure. You are supposed to have fun, you are supposed to get together with friends and fill your day with fun activities. You might worry that your anxiety is going to stop you from having fun or joining social activities. Or, you might not have close friends and worry that you are going to spend the summer alone, at home. Instead of looking forward to the summer, you see it as a long, lonely time.
You are worried about upcoming activities - Maybe you are going to camp, starting a new job or plan to learn to drive. These can be scary and instead of being excited you are filled with fear. What if you go to camp and no one likes you? What if you start a new job and you fail?
You worry about what others will think - During the summer months, you wear less clothes. You might worry that others will think you are fat, or too skinny. You might be self-conscious about your appearance and the summer months, when you have more time to ruminate about it, makes it seem much worse.
Anxiety during the summertime can sometime be a downward spiral. You get anxious, you don’t want to go out or can’t get motivated to join in some activity. Then you feel worse and feel guilty that you spent your day at home, doing nothing. You become more anxious and less motivated, making you feel even worse.
What you can do:
Create a plan for your summer. Find a reason to get up and out of the house each day. If you don’t have a job, consider volunteering at local non-profits in your area. You can often find volunteer opportunities at hospitals, nursing and rehabilitation centers, non-profit organizations, animal shelters and senior centers. Look for other structured activities, such as sports or classes on a topic you find enjoyable. Write down all the activities you can and do participate in and plan how and when you are going to do each one. Add some variety to your schedule, such as: Monday - volunteer, Tuesday - bike ride, Wednesday - go to library, etc.
Stick to a daily schedule. While it sounds nice to be able to sleep the morning away, this often leaves you feeling like you wasted your day, especially if sleeping in means you didn’t get out of bed until afternoon. Try to stick to a reasonable wake up time and stay on your schedule.
Take care of yourself. When sticking to a daily schedule helps you sleep better, you also want to eat right (cake or cookies for breakfast is not a healthy breakfast). Take a shower and get dressed, even on days when you don’t leave the house.
Exercise. Daily exercise has been found to lower anxiety levels. If you don’t normally exercise during the colder months, the summer is a great time to start. Find an activity you enjoy - running, swimming, going to the gym, bicycling, taking long walks - so you are more apt to keep it up. When planning your daily schedule, put exercise into a specific time slot and follow through each day.
Look for anxiety triggers. Pay attention to when you feel more anxious. Do you feel worse during the afternoon? The evening? Is it when a social situation is approaching? Is it when the temperatures are soaring? When you are hungry or overly tired? Keep a journal of your anxiety levels so you can narrow down what is triggering your anxiety and then take steps to work on that area.
Practice relaxation techniques****. No matter what, remember, you aren’t alone. There are many teens who live with anxiety everyday. Try looking for groups, locally or online, of teens with anxiety who support and encourage one another. Knowing that you are going through this together can help.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.