Summer is most definitely with us and the summer months are generally thought to be good for our mental health, writes Alan Burke. The extra hours of sunlight, indeed sight of the sun at all, brightens our spirits and boosts our mood. Summer is a time when we are at our most active and having lots of fun… or so the theory goes. But are the long days and short nights all good news?
In the summer we are expected to be cheery and positive, thriving like the plants and wildlife around us. But depression, anxiety and stress are not seasonal disorders and many of those who suffer are just as likely to do so in the summer months as in the winter. In fact, symptoms can sometimes be worse as we may feel we are supposed to be having a good time, but what if we are not? Depression has a nasty habit of lingering around whatever the weather.
I sometimes find the long summer days and light summer nights challenging. I suspect this is to do with the constant pressure on us to be active, to be permanently on the go. Having a routine can help with depression. Over the summer our carefully constructed routines can go out of the window.
It is all too easy to treat the longer days as an excuse to work harder and sleep less – and a lack of quality sleep seriously impacts our mood and our productivity, and consequently our levels of stress and anxiety.
Going to bed in the light can make it harder to sleep. The rising sun can wake us at an uncivilised hour. On the rare occasion when the mercury rises like these past few weeks, the heat can make us feel claustrophobic, it can give us headaches, hay fever and make it feel harder to breathe. Heatwaves in particular are more likely to negatively impact on those with mental health problems.
The other thing about the summer months is that we are expected to combine our work with more extensive enjoyment of hobbies and activities. This “requirement” can often be a burden on those who suffer from depression, as depression dulls the senses to the point where nothing is enjoyable.
With the summer months comes the annual holidays. A source of great enjoyment but often a double-edged sword. When we are away technology increasingly ensures that our office goes with us, preying on our minds and impacting on our ability to shut off. Very few locations are free from a Wi-Fi service. Whilst away we can become guilty or stressed by the work we are leaving behind, and can often find our much deserved break dominated by the inevitable thought of “re-entry” to the workplace.
When we are not holidaying but others are, the workplace begins to feel a little empty. This may result in those left at their desks taking on more work, leading to longer hours when perhaps the weather suggests we “should” be relaxing and enjoying ourselves. Worse still, Instagram and WhatsApp are constant reminders of the fun others are having.
Spare a thought then for those for whom the summer months offer little or no respite from the void that may have engulfed their life. Try and remember that not everybody is necessarily enjoying the long summer days as much as you may be.
Just as depression can affect those of all ages, sex and social status so it can affect us 365 days a year, regardless of the weather.
“For depressed individuals, the social requirement to ‘put on a happy face’ requires subjugation of an especially intense inner experience. Yet, nearly unbelievably, many severely depressed people ‘pull off the act’ for long periods of time”
Property Minds Matter is a series of articles in which Alan Burke explores mental health in the property sector and how it can be improved, based on his own experience and struggles during 30 years in the industry.
Alan is a surveyor and former development director who has specialised in the identification and delivery of major projects and urban regeneration initiatives over a 30-year period. He’s worked for PwC, the Homes & Communities Agency, Langtree, Bruntwood, and Ask Real Estate. He now runs his own consulting business which offers property, regeneration, development and funding advice to clients in both the public and private sectors, and is also a mental health ambassador for Lionheart, the charity for RICS professionals.