Most people cheer up a bit as the weather turns to spring, then summer. People are happy to get outside for a bit of fresh air and sunshine. However, by August, the weather typically becomes hot, humid, and oppressive, whether you live in Minnesota or Mexico. That oppressive summer weather might have an impact on your addiction recovery. Here’s how.
Most people are familiar with winter seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. It’s when the shorter and colder days trigger an episode of major depression. However, people are typically less familiar with summer SAD, as it’s less common. If you’re prone to depression, the summer heat may also trigger an episode, although the symptoms tend to be slightly different from winter SAD.
You still feel the depressed mood, the fatigue, the anhedonia, and the lack of motivation but in summer SAD you are more likely to experience loss of appetite, increased anxiety, and poor sleep, whereas, in winter SAD, you are more likely to have an increase in appetite and sleep too much. If you are recovering from a substance use disorder, depression may be a contributing factor so an episode of summer SAD might be a challenge to your recovery.
If you have bipolar disorder, your manic and depressive episodes may be significantly influenced by the seasons. Research suggests that spring and summer weather commonly triggers manic episodes in people with bipolar, although in a smaller percentage of people, it may also trigger a depressive episode, as discussed above.
The summer tends to cause metabolic changes that lead to more energy and less sleep, which may tip your mood toward mania. Since more than half of people with bipolar disorder develop a substance use issue at some point in their lives, it’s especially important to be aware of these patterns and try to manage them.
Lack of Energy
While warmer weather tends to give you a boost in energy, hot weather tends to be exhausting. You probably know from experience how demoralizing it can feel to open your door and be blasted in the face with hot, humid air. Research also backs this up. In one study, researchers conducted three separate experiments that found that participants had less energy for prosocial actions when they were hot.
In one experiment, employees were about half as likely to volunteer to help customers when the store was uncomfortably hot. In another experiment, just thinking about being hot made participants answer about half as many questions on a survey for a non-profit.
This affects recovery in two ways. First, the drop in prosocial behavior makes you less likely to engage with your sober network and offer support to others. Second, if you feel more fatigued in general, you may be more likely to cut corners on your recovery plan. Everything is just harder when the weather is sweltering.
Regular exercise should be part of every recovery plan because of its many benefits for physical and mental health. Outdoor exercise, especially in a natural setting, provides even more benefits for your mood, cognition, and stress levels.
However, when the weather is suffocating, the last thing you want to do is go out for a run, a walk, or even a swim. As noted above, the hot weather may increase your fatigue, making you less likely to exercise in general. If you spend your August sitting on the couch in the air conditioning, you may find your anxiety climbing and your mood plummeting.
A lot of research has found a strong association between hot weather and violent crime. There are a number of theories about why this happens. Part of it, no doubt, is just that there is more opportunity to commit a violent crime when the days are longer and people are out.
However, research also shows that other hostile and violent behaviors such as horn-honking and spousal abuse increase with the heat, suggesting there’s more to the story. Heat is a kind of stress on the body and a higher baseline of stress typically makes people more short-tempered.
As discussed above, heat also leads to greater fatigue and less prosocial behavior, indicating interpersonal friction may be higher. Finally, dehydration may cause you to feel irritable and hostile.
What to Do
First, it’s important to be aware of how the heat affects you. If you are able to say to yourself, “I’m just feeling irritable because it’s hot; nothing is fundamentally wrong and this will pass when the weather changes,” then you are less vulnerable to the unconscious influence of the weather. Most importantly, you are less likely to blame other people for your bad mood.
As noted above, one theory of why aggression increases in hot weather is that people sweat more and get dehydrated. Be sure you’re drinking enough fluids. Water and tea are typically best but if you are having to drink a lot of fluids, it’s also important to get some electrolytes from either a sports drink, Pedialyte, or tablets.
Try to Stay Active
When it’s hot, most people just want to lie around doing nothing. You have to conserve that precious energy. However, that tends to be pretty bad for your mental state. Try to find ways to be active, despite the heat. Exercise inside if you can.
If not, try to exercise in the morning or evening, when it’s not quite so hot. If you want to tough it out in the middle of the day, keep in mind that the heat will make it much harder. Expect at least a 20 percent decline in your performance. Take breaks when necessary, stay hydrated, and watch out for signs of heatstroke, such as confusion, dizziness, headache, muscle cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
Even people who love summer can feel oppressed during the dog days. The summer heat can have a real effect on your recovery from addiction by sapping your energy, souring your mood, and making you less active. However, you can blunt these effects somewhat by being aware of them and having a strategy for dealing with them.
At Hired Power, we provide transitional services to help keep your recovery on track after you leave treatment. These include case management, sober coaching, sober assistance, and others. Everyone needs help sometimes to deal with the challenges of recovery and we’re here to provide that help. To learn more, call us at (800) 910-9299.