It’s the last day in August which means that summer is nearly at an end *sobs*. And as such, our enthusiasm for the sunniest (sort of) of seasons is starting to wane. The BBQs are drying up, you’re buying back-to-school basics rather than bikinis and the countdown to Christmas is on. Gah!
But the preparation to flip from hot summer nights to hibernation can play havoc with our emotions with some experts reporting spikes in anxiety around this time of year. So why can the end of August make us feel so blue?
“Depression and anxiety are common mental health problems that can affect you at any time. But some of us find our mood drops at this time of year,” explains Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind. “This could be because of things happening in your life like going back to school or university, starting work or changes in the weather. If these thoughts are affecting your day-to-day life, you should consider seeking help.”
But the end of summer shouldn’t be all about the stress. So if you’re prone to feeling low as the nights draw in, here’s our expert guide to keeping hanging on to those happy holiday vibes…
Back to work blues
“For many people, the end of summer means the return to work or university,” explains David Brudö, CEO and co-founder of personal development and mental wellbeing platform Remente. “Returning to a stressful or pressuring environment can make you long for summer, and resent the upcoming onset of the winter months, where work stretches ahead of you.”
“When you return to working after time off, it’s a good idea to try adjusting your environment, this will help gear your mind towards productive work,” advises David. “A good thing to do, is step away from your desk to try to figure out if it’s making you want to work, relax or even walk away. If it’s the latter two, change things around, making your environment better in order to help motivate you.”
It’s also worth switching up your working environment every so often. “Inspiring working environments can lose their effect after a time, so it is important to change things around every so often,” advises David.
Most people tend to associate Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with the chilly winter months, but some people can be affected in the summer too.
“As we move into autumn and winter, days begin to get shorter and light fades earlier,” explains Stephen Buckley. “For some people, the reduced daylight hours and lack of sunshine can have a much greater impact on their mood and energy. This can lead to a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms include sleep problems, anxiety, depression, and lack of energy, all of which can significantly impact on day-to-day life. Most people who have SAD will be affected when the hours of daylight are shorter i.e. December to February. However, some people get SAD in summer.”
In the summer our bodies tend to produce more vitamin D, also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin.’ Vitamin D is produced by your skin in response to sunlight and plays an important role in the body’s production of serotonin, a chemical vital for regulating your mood.
In order to beat the post-summer blues, it’s important to ensure that your body is still receiving plenty of vitamin D. “Going outdoors, particularly around midday or on bright days, can be effective in reducing symptoms of SAD. This is perhaps more important in winter because people will often travel to work in darkness and then leave in darkness, try to leave your desk and go for a short walk at lunchtime,” advises Stephen Buckley.
Another way to up your Vit D levels is to eat certain foods which are high in this specific vitamin.
“As tempting as it is to reach for comfort foods to cheer you up, eating lots of sugary food can actually cause your blood sugar to crash, making you feel tired and irritable,” explains Stephen Buckley. “A healthy balanced diet is as important for your mental health as your physical health, so it’s best to include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fatty oils such as omega-3 and 6, and try to avoid stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol. A healthy balanced diet is also crucial for a good night’s sleep, which is vital for your mental health.”
The in-house nutritionist at health and fitness app Lifesum has some foods that could give you a mood-enhancing boost.
- Salmon: this is the top hitter for Vitamin D (wild salmon also has high levels of vitamin D than farmed salmon). Just half a fillet of salmon has over 1,000 IU of Vitamin D, which is more than the daily-recommended allowance for a person.
- Milk/dairy products: milk or dairy that has been fortified with Vitamin D, most types of cow’s milk are. You can also buy yoghurts and other dairy products that have been fortified (usually whole milk not semi-skimmed)
- Ricotta cheese – ricotta has more than five times the amount of Vitamin D as other cheeses.
- Eggs: two large free-range eggs can hold about one eighth of your recommended dose of Vitamin D and also contain lots of other health benefits.
“After summer has come to an end and the long winter months are stretching ahead, many of us feel a lack of motivation, which in turn, contributes to our feelings of post-summer blues,” explains David Brudö. One reason for this is that people may settle into a routine over the summer months and if the end of summer brings about an end to this new schedule, it’s common to be left feeling unfocused and unmotivated.
“One of the best ways to stay motivated is to simply give yourself a pep talk,” advises David Brudö. “Dedicate a few minutes a day to writing down, or saying aloud why you are doing well, what you have already achieved and what the next goal is – it is difficult to lose motivation when you are motivating yourself on a daily basis.”
Because the summer months give us longer days and nicer weather (in theory!), we often find ourselves spending more time outdoors and think of ourselves as having more fun during these months.
David suggests dedicating a set amount of time a day for doing something fun that you enjoy. “Whether it is simply hanging out with your friends, going for a run or looking after your garden, make sure you have time set aside to have fun and move around.”
As the weather begins to cool and the nights get darker, it’s understandable that we may become less inclined to exercise. However, an important product of exercise is that it helps the body produce endorphins, which make us feel happier.
“Having a mental health problem can make it more difficult to be physically active, especially during winter when outdoor exercise may seem less appealing,” explains Stephen Buckley. “But physical activity can be very effective in lifting your mood and increasing your energy levels. Research shows exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression.”
Even if it might seem impossible to get moving when it’s dark and raining, a regular exercise routine can make you feel significantly better. “If running in winter isn’t for you, activities such as Zumba, dance classes and even trapeze classes have been shown to have many positive benefits for people’s mental health,” suggests Stephen Buckley.
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one then it is important to seek support. Mind has lots of information on depression, anxiety and SAD including tips for helping yourself and guidance for friends and family. Their confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, is available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am – 6pm, Monday – Friday).
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