School’s out. The weather’s warmer. Days are longer. Free time is plentiful. There’s no homework and maybe a vacation to look forward to. And yet, for some adolescents, teen anxiety in summer is worse than other times of the year.
For young people with anxiety disorders or those who tend to be more anxious in general, summer can be rough. For these teens, higher temperatures, more sunlight, and less structure aren’t mood boosters. On the contrary, they’re anxiety triggers.
- Anxious teens can experience more anxiety in the summer due to many factors, including lack of structure and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
- When the body’s core temperature rises because of overexposure to hot weather, anxiety can rise, too.
- Anxious adolescents benefit from physical activity, adequate rest, and minimal exposure to prolonged heat and humidity.
- A summer program for teens can help decrease anxiety and give young people positive coping skills.
Summer Anxiety Symptoms
Summertime anxiety is a real phenomenon. As summer progresses, some teens with anxiety disorders notice they feel even more anxiety. A range of physical and psychological summer anxiety symptoms are possible, including:
- Restlessness and jitteriness
- Dizziness and dehydration
- Increased worrying and catastrophizing
- Trouble sleeping and/or relaxing
- Difficulty concentrating
- Headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension
- Sweating, shaking, nausea, increased fatigue
- High heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Sweaty palms
- Panic attacks
Teens struggling with anxiety in the summer months are not alone. For example a study of medical students found that they have higher levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone” released into the bloodstream during high-stress situations) in the summer than in the winter months. Experts believe a wide range of factors is responsible.
What Causes Anxiety in Summer for Teens?
7 Causes of Teen Anxiety in Summer
Here are the top reasons why teens can get more anxious in summer.
Lack of Structure, Less Routine
Structure and predictability are soothing for people with anxiety disorders. When your nervous system is on constant alert, routine can be calming. In summer, however, young people’s waking, eating, and sleeping schedules often vary widely. There are no regular classes to show up for or afterschool activities to attend. Nightly homework doesn’t exist. An increase in unstructured time deprives anxious teens of the rhythm they need to feel safe and secure. Instead, it gives their brains more time to spin and worry.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
Much more prevalent now due to social media, the fear of missing out (FOMO) intensifies in the summer. Young people scroll through posts of neighbors, classmates, and friends hanging out on the beach or traveling to far-flung destinations. And they “compare and despair,” as Don Grant, PhD, Newport’s National Advisor of Healthy Device Management, puts it. If they don’t have vacation plans or haven’t been invited to the big party, they may feel inadequate or unpopular. They may also experience loneliness if most of their friendships center around school vs. summer activities. Missing out on all the fun summer is supposed to bring can make anxiety rise and lead to depression, too.
Feeling bored is another byproduct of months without classes, schoolwork, or extracurricular activities. When teens feel restless or purposeless, they can respond to boredom in destructive ways. Some might abuse substances, like alcohol or food. Others might binge on social media. Chronic boredom also increases the risk factors for mental health issues. It can lead to impulsivity and negative thinking. And it can exacerbate anxious thoughts and anxiety disorders.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Most people associate Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with the winter months. Less sunlight and shorter days increase winter gloom for some teens. However, more sunlight and longer days aren’t necessarily a good thing. Too much sunlight can turn off the production of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that powers the body’s circadian rhythm, or the natural sleep-wake cycle. When the sleep-wake cycle is disrupted, it’s more difficult to fall asleep and get adequate rest. As the body tries to compensate for insufficient sleep, cortisol levels rise. Hence, anxiety does, too.
Increased Teen Drug Use
Another cause of lack of sleep—and therefore greater anxiety—is increased drug use in the summer. Using substances increases anxiety in a variety of ways. For one, anxiety is a side effect of many drugs, including alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, hallucinogens, and inhalants. In fact, teen substance use can lead to a condition known as substance-induced anxiety disorder. In other cases, teen drug and alcohol use leads to risky behavior and poor decisions. Hence, the consequences of substance use can lead to greater levels of anxiety and stress for young people.
Summer School Anxiety
For some teens, summertime means summer school. Teens who do better with structure may find summer school helpful. But teens who are anxious about attending school during the school year can feel equally anxious about attending summer school. They may worry about what their teachers will think of them or whether they can handle the schoolwork. They may also feel shame about needing to attend summer school at all.
Interruption in Mental Health Services
During the summer, young people with anxiety disorders can experience a lapse in receiving much-needed mental health services. If they receive services through school, they may not be available during the summer. Moreover, vacations are sometimes to blame—either their family’s or their provider’s. As well, fewer adult eyes and ears are checking on them since they’re not at school. With less oversight, some anxious teens are less apt to get the help they need.
Does Heat Make Teen Anxiety Worse?
The lack of a social framework and set schedule aren’t the only significant factors boosting summer anxiety among teens. The heat and humidity play a major role, too. Typically, the human body maintains a temperature between 97° and 99° Fahrenheit. When the weather is especially hot, the body’s core temperature rises. If it rises above the normal range (99.5° Fahrenheit and above), hyperthermia occurs. Hyperthermia can cause or aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, like difficulty concentrating, rapid breathing, and anxious thinking. Hot temperatures can also trigger anxiety and depression in people with summer SAD.
The relationship between heat and anxiety can’t be underestimated. A 2023 study published in the Lancet looked at how extreme heat and humidity influenced the development of mental health disorders. Researchers found that people who had a mean temperature increase of 1° Celsius during the two months prior to the survey had a 21 percent greater chance of having anxiety. They also had a 24 percent greater chance of experiencing anxiety and depression simultaneously. Additionally, research found that short-term exposure to higher temperatures may increase the risk of panic attacks.
Both of these studies may help explain a 2022 JAMA Psychiatry study. In this study, researchers concluded that the number of patients seeking mental health support at an emergency department in the United States rose during periods of intense heat. Summer days with higher-than-average temperatures were especially linked to substance use disorders, mood disorders, and anxiety and stress disorders.
Still another heat-related trigger is climate anxiety. Climate anxiety is a pervasive sense of worry about the future of the planet due to higher temperatures all over the globe. People of all ages experience climate anxiety, but it’s most prevalent in young people. A recent survey of 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 sought to understand how young people feel about the climate crisis. Nearly two-thirds (59 percent) described themselves as “very” or “extremely” worried and, 62 percent reported feeling anxious.
How Teens Can Cope with Summer Anxiety
Teens who feel anxious in the summer can employ the following strategies to prevent anxiety from getting worse.
Avoid Spending Too Much Time in the Heat
Teens with summer Seasonal Affective Disorder should avoid heat and humidity. That doesn’t mean they need to be trapped indoors with air conditioning all day. However, they should plan outdoor activities for the morning or evenings when it’s cooler. If they do have to be in the sun, they should keep it to a minimum. It’s a good idea to dress in loose-fitting, light-colored clothing, drink plenty of water, and take time-outs in a cooler environment.
Get Enough Sleep
Summer’s added daylight makes it easy to stay up later. Teens with anxiety, however, should avoid sleep deprivation if possible. Consistent sound sleep prevents the symptoms of anxiety from spiraling out of control. Getting to bed around the same time each night also increases the likelihood of falling asleep more easily. Furthermore, the bedroom should be as cool as possible, ideally between 60° and 67° F. Reliable air conditioning or a quiet fan can help.
Summer typically offers less routine as the rest of the year. But adolescents can try creating their own structure and rhythms. In addition to getting to bed at the same time each night, they can try to wake up around the same time, as well. Spending time outdoors at least once a day—riding a bike, taking a walk, or writing or drawing in a journal under a favorite tree—can create a sense of predictability. For anxious teens, predictability is comforting.
Being physically active is an excellent way to practice self-care and minimize anxiety. Fortunately, warm weather allows for more types of exercise, like swimming, kayaking, or beach volleyball. Exercise reduces anxiety by increasing endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. To feel motivated, teens need to find a form of exercise they enjoy. Staying hydrated during physical activity is essential!
Teens with summer anxiety can practice slow breathing to reduce panic attacks or simply calm down. Counting their breaths can help them stop anxious thoughts by activating the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system. One practice is to inhale for four seconds and exhale for six. Another slow breathing technique is to repeat a comforting phrase to yourself while breathing slowly. This might be I’m safe and at peace or I’m relaxed and at ease. The result is a reduction in anxiety.
Master a New Skill
Mastering a skill is a productive way to spend the lazy days of summer. It can also help anxious teens feel a sense of control of their surroundings, which can reduce anxiety. Learning a new language, instrument, or computer program involves mental effort. If teens choose a goal and work toward it, they’re less apt to feel worried and anxious. It’s helpful for them to have a place to focus their energy. Moreover, their self-esteem may increase because they feel good about what they’re learning and doing.
Invest in Teen Friendships
Without the immediate social framework of school, some teens may feel more disconnected during the summer. The importance of supportive friendships for good mental health can’t be overestimated. One study found that friendships—even more than family support—are the greatest predictor of resilience in adolescence. Friends increase a sense of belonging and help reduce stress. If teens work to forge and deepen connections in the summer, they increase the likelihood of emotional stability.
Get Additional Help When Needed
If parents feel that teens’ summer anxiety is out of control, they should seek out help. The first step is a teen mental health evaluation. Next, a mental health counselor can offer techniques and tools to help teens manage their anxiety more effectively. They may also recommend treatment, such as therapy, an outpatient program, or a residential program.
Are There Teen Summer Camps for Anxiety?
Many different types of summer camps are available to help teens struggling with anxiety. Outpatient or residential teen treatment is an alternative kind of summer camp that can set teens up for success. They take part in art and fitness activities, and they also participate in individual, family, and group therapy. Clinicians help teens identify, understand, and manage difficult thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
It’s important to understand that not all summer camps provide evidence-based, trauma-informed care by staff trained in a wide variety of clinical modalities. The highest-quality treatment programs are accredited by national accrediting bodies and affiliated with leading organizations in the mental healthcare field. It’s wise to research options carefully so teens are matched with a summer camp that suits them best.
Newport Academy’s Teen Treatment for Anxiety in Summer
For teens struggling with anxiety symptoms over the last year, summer is an excellent time to access treatment. Attending a summer treatment center doesn’t compete with classes or schoolwork, and it offers much-needed structure. It can also boost teens’ social and academic skills to help them transition back to school more easily.
At Newport Academy, our residential treatment and outpatient summer programs help teens heal from past trauma. They also help teens develop coping strategies to manage uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Teens engage in creative and outdoor activities, participate in family-focused programs, and receive help with college applications and SAT/ACT prep. As teens form relationships with peers and learn about themselves, anxiety dissipates and self-esteem grows.
Contact us today to learn more and schedule a teen mental health assessment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does summer give me anxiety?
Summer’s lack of structure is anxiety-provoking for anxious teens who benefit from routine. Some teens experience the fear of missing out (FOMO). Others have summer SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which can disturb sleep cycles and boost anxiety.
Does heat trigger anxiety?
Yes, heat can trigger anxiety. Some people become more anxious in the summer because hot temperatures increase stress hormones.
Does staying cool help with anxiety?
Yes, staying cool is one way to prevent anxiety from getting worse. Get outside in the mornings or evenings when temperatures are lower. Dress in light-colored clothing, stay hydrated, and sleep in a cool, dark room.
Can anxiety make you sensitive to heat?
People with anxiety may be more sensitive to heat within normal ranges. If they’re already feeling agitated, additional heat can cause agitation to rise.
What are three coping strategies for summer anxiety?
Getting adequate rest, minimizing time in the heat, and establishing daily routines are three coping strategies that can reduce summer anxiety.
Lancet: 2023 Feb; 7(2); 137–146.
JAMA Psychiatry: 2022 Feb; 79(4): 341–349.
Lancet. 2021 Dec; 5(12): 863–873.
Depression Anxiety: 2020 Nov; 37(11): 1099–1107.
Psychol Med. 2017; 47: 2312–2322.