Woman standing in the shade

Do you have summer anxiety?

Have you lost enough weight? Are you beach body ready? Have you hidden all of your ‘imperfections’?…

As women, we are bombarded with these questions on a regular basis – but never more so than in the lead up to summer. We all know that insecurity sells products. Why else would women’s magazines show HEAVILY airbrushed pictures of women (usually abnormally thin and long limbed) right next to a beauty product ad? Yes, you guessed it. If you are happy with yourself you won’t need to buy anything – the insecurity industry is big business.

With this kind of messaging, it’s no wonder that so many women suffer from summer related anxiety. At a time when we are encouraged to go out and show much more of our bodies than usual, the summer can lead to feelings of dread and even panic attacks.

Brenda Ward (name changed) is a Marketing Executive from London. She says that despite being a confident person, she often feels anxious in the lead up to summer: “I work in marketing so I am frequently called upon to do presentations and public speaking events. I am known for being ballsy and bubbly, so confidence in my abilities is not the issue. My problem is to do with my body image and this is always accentuated when summer comes around. I usually gain weight during the winter and if I don’t lose the weight before summer – like I didn’t this year – I get into a panic. I end up going to the gym and constantly fretting about showing my upper arms and legs. I am constantly on show so my image is pretty important.”

If I don’t lose the weight before summer…I get into a panic

“A few weeks ago, I was feeling so bad that I decided to go shopping for a new summer wardrobe. To be honest, I hadn’t realized just how much weight I had put on. I went into H&M who are notorious for bad sizing and ended up having a panic attack and leaving in tears because nothing fit and I felt ugly, a complete failure. I haven’t been shopping since, but I know I need to sort my head out before I do.”

There is a difference between SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mental health problem that can be caused by anything from a delay in the  body’s ability to adjust to the change in season to overwhelming social pressures) and simply feeling anxious about having to live up to ‘summer body’ ideals. But just because you don’t formally suffer from SAD, does not mean that your feelings of anxiety should be ignored.

Luissa Barton and other models

Luissa pictured far right

For anyone living with a skin condition the summer months can also be particularly difficult. Psoriasis is a skin condition which affects 2% of the population and takes the form of scaly, silver patches on the skin which when removed show very red angry sores. Luissa Barton is a model, she says her psoriasis made her want to cover her body even on hot days: “I remember one day when I was at Thorpe Park and a child pointed at me and said loudly to his mum “what are those things on that girls legs!” It was a hot day and for a change I didn’t want to cover up. Usually I would feel too self-conscious wearing anything that didn’t cover all of my arms and legs, even in hot weather. It (psoriasis) started in my second year of university, when a lot of things were going on in my personal life – all in a short space of time. This put me under immense stress, which ended up showing on my skin. It started out as little patches but soon covered the entire fronts and backs of my legs and my arms. For a long time I couldn’t look in the mirror without crying.”

I started turning down jobs…I didn’t feel adequate.

“I do modeling as a profession and when the plaques started appearing, I began to get even more stressed out as modelling requires you to be perfect at all times. The problem was the more stressed out I became about the plaques being there, the more plaques there would be. I started turning down jobs because I didn’t feel adequate. (read the full story here)

Being anxious about showing your upper arms or legs  may be considered a ‘first world problem’ to some. But feeling overly anxious about anything can be a sign that there are other emotional or mental problems to address. Integrative Psychotherapist, Hilda Burke says that feeling summer anxiety can be a clue to other issues: “In summer, I think the tendency to compare one’s own physique to others can become intensified for some. People are generally wearing less and with that can come a lot of insecurities. However, these anxieties can run much deeper than what’s been shown or indeed hidden physically. I know people who have lost a lot of weight through diet and exercise and are bitterly disappointed at the end that they don’t feel better about themselves. This is because body image is about perception of one self, not how one actually is. The reasons why someone sees themselves in such a negative light can have very deep roots and they aren’t something that can be resolved though a ‘quick fix’. Therapy can help unravel why someone feels this way and debunk the myths they have created about themselves.”

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) depression and anxiety levels are on the rise in the UK. Figures show that 19.7% (in contrast to 18.3% the year before) said they had experienced anxiety or depression.  Like all statistics, these figures rely on people being open and honest – is this just evidence that we are more comfortable talking about mental illness? It’s extremely likely, as 2016-2017 has seen mental illness pushed to the forefront and from news outlets to blogs, anxiety and depression are trending topics. A shaky political landscape has meant that societal issues have pierced the bubbles of even the most apathetic amongst us and social media has given us the ability to voice our battles (both big and small) to the world. On the positive side, we are taking a much needed step towards destigmatizing mental illness, but there is a sense that we are glamourizing it too. As we are encouraged to seek out support for problems we may have previously ignored or tried to handle ourselves, we may find ourselves confused as to what actually warrants closer inspection – as summer approaches, are even the mildest feelings of anxiety enough to seek out a session on the therapists couch?

The truth is, if summer anxiety (or any other anxiety or mental illness) is holding you back, causing you emotional turmoil or making you fearful or uncomfortable, then seeking help would be the obvious way to go. After all, if you have had a physical illness, the chances are you wouldn’t just ignore it. If the current environment is anything to go by, as a society there will be much to deal with –  confronting and treating any mental health issues we have may just strong arm us all for the future.

For more information on anxiety, stress and anxiety based depression go to: www.anxietyuk.org.uk

 




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