Let’s talk about how you can look after your mental health in summer…

Summer’s well and truly on its way and, as the clouds part, hordes of half-naked Britons flock to the streets in search of ice cream and fruit cider. It’s the season of beer-gardens, bikinis and BBQs (although, only the bravest could pull off all three at once hello bloating) and the heat brings with it an infectious joie de vivre; sunlight boosts our serotonin levels, a lack of which causes SAD, and helps us to be more sociable, serene and even have more sex.

However, despite the heat’s mood-boosting effects, it acts as an insurmountable barrier between those with mental health illnesses and the outside world. Someone with depression may feel frustrated and inferior because their friends are outside while sweat sticks them to their bedsheets, anxiety makes it impossible for a person to interact with sun-hungry crowds and those with eating disorders shake at the thought of stripping down and losing the comfort of winter’s oversized jumpers.

As someone who’s grappled with depression and bulimia, I’ve witnessed summer’s insidious side first-hand. Lying in bed on a hot July’s day, listening to the delighted babble of children outside chasing a Mr Whippy truck, my isolation became more apparent than ever. There was so much life around me, but I was too exhausted to participate. I admonished myself frequently (and unfairly). What sort of loser sat indoors all day? Why couldn’t I just have fun? I felt guilty often and promised myself, every evening, I’d try harder to get out. Predictably, I rarely did, preferring to swap daytime drinking for duvet days and sunbathing for siestas

Although it doesn’t feel like it at the time, this behaviour is perfectly okay. In fact, it’s normal. Isolation is an important and valid tool in protecting your mental health. Temperature aside, sometimes the only thing that feels right is Netflix in bed (there’s nothing more relaxing than losing yourself in a steady stream of good shows and snacks). Plus, there are plenty of things you can do to keep yourself included and content from the comfort of your room.

Drawing from my experience, I’ve put together some accessible tips for you to look after your mental health in summer.

Seven tips to improve your mental health in summer

Open blinds and windows

Blinds and windows are barriers to the outside world; keeping them shut is only going to emphasise feelings of being alone. During my bad days, the simple act of opening a window removed a layer of separation, not only physically but psychologically. Suddenly, my bedroom became less stifling; everything was brighter, breezier and easier.

Plus, if you’re anything like me, tidying goes out the window see what I did there when you’re depressed. Letting in some air helps with the smell of unwashed hair and unchanged bedsheets (hey, nobody said mental illness was pretty).

Plant and open window

Make your space a pleasant place to be

While we’re on the subject of cleanliness, if you have a good day then use that energy to get your house or room in order. I understand tidying can be tiring (even people with good mental health loathe loading the dishwasher) but it’s important. And unavoidable. We absorb our surroundings; mouldy plates, sticky glasses and gathering dust slows us down, literally (I’ve tripped over takeaway boxes and trodden on glass too many times to count) and emotionally. Stephen King summed it up when he said, “Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters”.

Focus on indoor activities you enjoy

Even as a kid, I preferred indoor activities P.E still gives me nightmares. Maybe it was something to do with my terrible coordination and unathletic build? Or perhaps I was just an aloof deep-thinker who’d rather spend time philosophising than playing I prefer this explanation. Either way, there are loads of valuable and productive ways to spend your time indoors. Avoid the crowds and brush up on your culinary skills, skip festivals for films or swap UV rays for reading. Whatever it is, staying indoors doesn’t have to feel like a waste of time.

Call or message a friend

Some people say technology destroys relationships by making face-to-face contact redundant. However, for people with mental health problems, this easy method of communication is a life-saver. There’s no need to venture outside when one click lets us contact our loved ones. If you’re feeling down and want to socialise, message or call a friend. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy conversation; a quick chat is enough to remind us we’re wanted and loved.

Friends chatting on the swings

Create a routine and structure your day

Ah, routine. The very word is enough to strike fear into a depressive’s heart. However, they don’t have to be complicated. It could simply mean waking up before a certain time, showering, getting dressed and eating three square meals a day. I know this can feel like an uphill battle but, like any skill, it gets easier with practise. When you stay inside for days, weeks or months, time tends to merge into a bloodless black hole where nothing much happens; it’s hard to feel alive when you’re aimless.

When I was at my worst, setting small goals helped monumentally. It gave me a clearer sense of day and night and helped me prioritise essential acts of self-care. Even if I did absolutely nothing besides these basic tasks, I’d feel a huge sense of achievement at having brushed my hair and put on socks.

Spend time in your garden

I’m letting my privilege show here – I’m well aware gardens are a luxury in big cities like London. However, if you’re lucky enough to have some private outside space, task yourself with spending ten minutes a day there. Gardens are particularly helpful for anyone with anxiety as they’re secluded from heat-heady revellers and loud noise. The same principle applies to any quiet public space. Time to fish out that library card?

Take a walk

Exercise releases endorphins which alleviate the most abominable moods. Again, similar to the idea of routines earlier, it doesn’t have to be extreme. Despite how meditative long runs in nature and hour-long yoga sessions are, someone with acute depression won’t have the energy to partake. However, they might feel well enough for a short walk around the block or to the shops. Try and incorporate brief and attainable activity goals into your day, beginning with one or two short outings a week.

If you found this helpful, you may also like Four self-care tips that don’t actually suck.

Image credits: Pixabay, Unsplash and Unsplash.