Ways to Cope With Summer Crankiness

On some summer days, I prefer to lurk, like a mushroom, in a dank corner of my house — and not just to escape the record heat. I don’t want to glance outside and be reminded that I should be barbecuing somewhere.

I wouldn’t go as far as to count myself among the people in a 2023 YouGov survey who named August the third most-hated month of the year, but I do find that summer often puts me on edge. Studies have shown links between rising temperatures and issues ranging from aggression to mental fatigue.

It’s not uncommon to feel cranky in the summer, said Candice Norcott, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago.

It’s supposed to be a carefree time — a holdover idea, perhaps, from childhood summer break — and when it doesn’t feel that way, that can carry an extra layer of disappointment. You might perceive others as having lovely vacations and enjoying warm-weather activities, which can give you the sense that, as Dr. Norcott put it, “everybody’s living, and you’re not.”

Some people experience summertime seasonal affective disorder, which is less common (and less understood) than the wintertime version. Symptoms of summer SAD include depression, insomnia and decreased appetite.

But the advice below is more suited for passing crankiness, for those of us who are irritable — and annoyed about being irritable — during the summer months. Here are some ways to cope.

Think of a few aspects of the season that you do like, and savor them, Dr. Norcott said.

Maybe it’s the abundance of summer fruit, or the proliferation of yard and stoop sales. I love to take walks at twilight, when the sun isn’t blazing and the fireflies come out.

Try every ice cream flavor you can find. See a matinee of “Barbie” with a friend. (I saw it with my two sisters, with whom I hadn’t seen a movie in decades.) Hang a hummingbird feeder. You don’t need big plans, Dr. Norcott said, but a smattering of happy moments can help chip away at a seasonal bad mood.

Bad sleep at any time of the year will set you up to feel grumpy. And summer in particular can mess up your rest: Research suggests that people tend to sleep less as the days get longer. It’s easy to be oblivious to the time on nights when it stays light until 9 p.m. or later, said Phyllis Zee, a neurologist and chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. And that festive late dinner is likely to interfere with your sleep.

Accept the fact that you might need to start winding down when it’s still light outside. For example, instead of eating at 10 p.m., you could aim to finish dining by 8. Dr. Zee recommends dimming all sources of light within three hours of bedtime — and investing in blackout blinds, since even a small crack of intense summer light can wake you up in the morning.

We put pressure on ourselves in summer: I “should” be at a cookout, I “should” be recreating the beach volleyball scene in “Top Gun.”

“Psychologists have a joke that we share with our clients,” Dr. Norcott said, “that they should stop ‘shoulding all over themselves.’” Shoulds “make us feel guilty or like we’ve already missed some arbitrary mark.”

“Why ‘should’ you be outside? Who says?” Dr. Norcott said. She suggested asking yourself, “Who is making up this rule?”

Social media often fuels the “should” impulse. If, say, you see a picture of people frolicking on the beach that sends you spiraling, said Dr. Norcott, first notice if you’re having what she calls a “global thought” — a general (and unsubstantiated) impression such as, “Everybody’s having more fun than me this summer. I should have more fun.”

Then, she said, ask yourself: What sore point is this image activating for me? Maybe, she said, it’s that you are working too hard. Next, ask: What do I like about this image?

“If what you like is seeing a group of friends enjoying each other’s company,” Dr. Norcott said, “‘you can say, ‘OK, so let me call a friend and feel some connection.’” That way you’ve gained insight and generated some productive thinking out of your “shoulding,” she said. “Because you can’t really do anything with ‘everyone’s having more fun than me.’”

One of the most established ways to reduce hypertension is to exercise — and a new study finds that doing wall squats in particular may reduce some people’s blood pressure. The study’s lead author recommends a 14-minute routine you can add to your regular workout around three times a week: a two-minute wall squat, followed by two minutes of rest, repeated four times.

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