Coping with Summer Holidays Anxiety
Updated: Sep 29, 2019
If you suffer from anxiety, the summer months and holidays may actually be specifically triggering for you. This has a lot to do with the intense heat and humidity of summer, but also the impeding plans for holidays don’t make it any easier, if you are overall anxious. It is actually confirmed that more than 1/3 of people get overwhelmed and very anxious prior to a holiday, out of fear of things going wrong on their first days of planned vacation.
Summer and Panic
If you have experienced a panic attack in the past, chances are you may be quite fearful about the potential for panic to make its appearance.
This fear is actually based on valid reasons. Panic attacks indeed may be more frequent in the summer.
The physiological symptoms that are produced by the heat are actually identical with the anxiety symptoms. Sweating, increased heart rate, trembling, shortness of breath and feeling light-headed are all sensations that can naturally occur during the intense summer heat.
The reason behind this is dehydration. When you are dehydrated, you feel a bit shaky and sick. When you feel bad in your body, you are prone to being more agitated, anxious and irritable. Not only that, but when you are in a negative mood, this can paint your whole reality in somewhat darker colours.
Negative emotional state triggers negative thoughts, which in turn makes you feel even worse, and more sensitive in noticing and engaging with physical sensations that can be interpreted negatively as threatening.
Heat naturally increases your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure, while it also makes you breathe faster. These are all very natural and normal symptoms.
However if you are prone to anxiety and panic, you may immediately misinterpret these physiological sensations as a sign of an impeding panic attack. Then your fear of fear gets activated and you are more likely to indeed experience a panic attack.
Stay Hydrated and Avoid the Heat
When you are aware of the effects of dehydration on your body, you can better understand the links between the summer weather and anxiety. By making sure you stay hydrated at all times, you minimize the risk of experiencing the physiological sensations associated with dehydration, that you can misinterpret as an upcoming panic attack. If you feel lightheaded and panicky in the midst of a summer day, what can really help is to have an ice dive: Take a cup filled with icecubes or an icy cold glass of water and cool your head with them. Or just an icy cold shower will help as much. This will immediately ease the discomforting sensations and cool you down.
Also if you try to avoid the intense heat and protect yourself in cooler environments, you stay away from the triggers mentioned above.
Knowledge is Power
The better you are informed about the physiological sensations associated with both heat and anxiety, the better you can conceptualize that very often, you create your own fear. If you experience such disturbing sensations, keep repeating to yourself that “The sensations I feel are normal. They do not mean I will have a panic attack”.
Practice what Works for You
If you get increasingly nervous, there are several tips that can counteract on your anxiety. Deep abdominal breathing can help you ground yourself again, or getting in touch with your senses by trying out the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise described here can also help. Further you can try out different distraction and relaxation techniques. Just focus your attention elsewhere for a while, and you will find out that anxiety is likely to leave you alone.
If you feel daring, you can also give a shot to the paradox approach to panic: Challenge yourself by augmenting all of the physical sensations you are already experiencing, as if trying to give yourself a full-blown panic attack. Surrender to panic instead of resisting it, and this will empower you as you find out that you can actually manage. You have the control over power and anxiety, not the other way around.
Quality of Sleep
In a previous blog post, we discussed the effect that the longer summer days, humidity and heat can have on our circadian rhythms. Our quality of sleep can really be impeded by summer. In the summer we tend to sleep later, and our melatonin levels are decreased. Not only that, but the humid weather does impact our quality of sleep too. When you do not fall into deep and restful sleep as easily, you may wake up cranky and more irritable than usual.
Make a Conscious Effort to Sleep Better
Completely darken your bedroom, use a sleeping mask, or just prepare yourself better by taking a lukewarm shower and drinking some soothing camomile tea before going to bed.
Travel-related Fears and Anxieties
Planning a holiday
As we discussed in a previous post, many people become overwhelmed at the prospect of organizing a holiday. Realistically, there are too many details to take into consideration, such as planning accommodation, finding about the best sightseeing options, checking restaurants and bars, organizing activities. All of this places a financial strain on us, since holidays are expensive. Moreover, all of the planning needs to occur while we are still in working mode, and time might feel limited to plan all the details adequately. Holidays are supposed to be all about recharging and relaxing, and yet the planning of them can cause us so much unnecessary stress. Oh the irony!
If you like to have control, then chances are you want to plan down to every little detail. However this can significantly add up on your experienced anxiety and pressure. Let go of your need to plan everything in advance, especially if you don’t particularly enjoy this process and it fills you up with stress , resulting in you feeling drained, overwhelmed and exhausted. Instead, prioritize what is absolutely essential for you to plan ahead (such as where you will sleep). Don’t overplan. Have a general idea of what you would like to do depending on the place you will visit, but not everything needs to go on a list. For instance, sightseeing is fun, but do you really have to organize loads of sightseeing? Allow for the element of spontaneity and surprise- after all, the best moments often are the ones that come unexpectedly. When you let go of your need to control everything, you may find that you will enjoy your holiday more.
Do you constantly catastrophize, i.e. imagine the worst possible outcome for everything? Are you afraid that something can go wrong while on holiday? It can happen to anyone. When you find yourself ruminating about different aspects of your holiday and worrying about little details that can go wrong, gain your control and power back by decatastrophizing.
Ask yourself: What is the worst that can really happen? Then be proactive and plan ahead by trying to generate all possible solutions and scenarios, should everything go as badly as you anticipate. This can help gain you a sense of control, and thus become prepared for the event that things actually do go wrong.
Fear of Flying
Flying is often an inevitable part of each journey. If you don’t particularly enjoy flying and get rather squeaky, it can be challenging to anticipate getting on an airplane. Relaxation and Grounding techniques can greatly help, while having a book that you know you will enjoy to immerse yourself into it can be a great distraction, similarly with filling your audio device with music you’ve been longing to listen to for a long time. Having soothing camomile or valerian teabags with you can also be of great assistance.
Similarly, connect with others: distracting yourself while flying is often the best thing you can do. Talk with your friend about your upcoming holiday, what gets you excited, or the highlights of the holiday you have just enjoyed, or even better, try to get social with a complete stranger sitting next to you. Most people are actually very sympathetic if they hear you are uncomfortable with flying, and they will be glad to help by distracting you. You’d be surprised!
If you are slightly agoraphobic, then crowded and stressful places such as airports can be overwhelming to you. It can help if you plan early morning flights, when airports are typically less busy. Distract yourself by listening to your favorite music while strolling around the airport- that can help with feeling overstimulated. Challenge your perspective: Instead of placing your focus on how uncomfortable it makes you feel to be in such a space, reframe your anxiety by reassuring yourself that this is the beginning stage of your holiday, so it is up to you to give it a great kick-start!
Social Anxiety and Comparing Yourself to Others
If you get excessively embarrassed and shy when being around others and having to meet new people, you can understandably feel triggered while on holidays. There are just too many new people around, and perhaps the summer dresscode (e.g. as less clothes as possible, or just your swimwear for most of the day) can make you be more self-conscious about your body and worry about whether you are fit enough to compare with everyone around you.
Avoiding social situations will exacerbate your anxiety. Avoidance might feel the way to go, but actually it is counterproductive because it keeps away the possibility to disconfirm your fears and beliefs. Get out of your comfort zone, be proactive and dare to approach others! Everyone is on holiday mode, so likely more open to new acquaintances as well.
Have your support group of close friends close to you. You know you can always turn to them for socializing and comfort, should everything else fail. An adequate level of trust and comfort with your people is necessary for this, as well as allowing them to know when you are struggling so that they can help you better.
People Don’t Really Bother
If you get insecure in social situations, be aware of the simple reality that people actually care much less about judging others than you are afraid they do. The same goes about comparing yourself and how you look to others.
When it does happen, ask yourself: So what? What does this mean about me? What can I do to change or control it? (Nothing- it still happens. You can only control your own reaction. So why place so much focus on it?)
Uncomfortable with New Experiences
Change is challenging. Experiencing anything that is different and new can be difficult to any of us, because we are not familiar with it. That is completely human.
If you are on holiday, perhaps you are a bit stressed and feel awkward about coming in touch with a new culture, different food and different lifestyle than the one you are used to.
Get out of your Comfort Zone
Let’s admit it: All of the truly exciting things happen when we dare to exit our comfort zone. No matter how anxiety-provoking it may feel, the truth is that if you let go of your anxiety about new experiences, you open the door to actually start enjoying them. This is your holiday, make sure you make it a memorable one by daring to explore different parts of yourself that you have been keeping hostage by such fears. Go one step at a time, allow yourself to broaden your horizons and get excited by all that is new around you. Your Future Self will be thankful that you did, plus you will fill your memory treasure chest with lots of new experiences that will make you smile when you are back to your routine.
It is true, packing for a holiday can be a considerable source of anxiety- especially for women. Women often have difficulty with packing, and tend to pack much more clothes than what they actually need.
This problem becomes even worse, when you leave it for the last moment. Be proactive and do not procrastinate anymore: whatever your usual tendency is, pack one day earlier than that.
Make a list
Instead of packing spontaneously, choosing whatever item of clothing that catches your attention, make a list with the days that you will be away and pack accordingly.
If you don’t like the above method, then simply gather up all that you want to pack and then make a commitment that you will leave half of it behind. It may seem like a difficult choice, but you know that in the end you are bound never to use half of the clothes you will take with you anyway!
Let Go of Expectations
Our expectations are our handmade jails. Maybe you expect too much out of this upcoming holiday, or you want it to be the best ever yet. However, this time try some more to take it as it comes, instead. Leave your expectations at home as you leave for your holiday destination. This will undoubtedly ease your anxiety and thus allow you to actually have a much better time and appreciate each moment of your hard-earned vacation.
Relax and Enjoy!
Yes, summer holidays can be a definite source of anxiety and stress. But the point is to challenge your perspective , and instead view this period as a unique opportunity to relax and recharge for the winter months ahead.
Whatever challeges you actually holds a valuable lesson within. Overcoming any fear means empowering ourselves and growing in wisdom- so even if it stresses you out, the summer holiday period provides many insights to be gained, that will help you grow as a person. Embrace it!
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