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The heat is on: do you suffer from summerphobia?


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The heat is on: do you suffer from summerphobia?
 Summerphobia: a rare form of anxiety related to changes in lifestyle during the warmer months Credit: RapidEye
Ellen Himelfarb
15 May 2017 • 6:45am
Gabrielle Moss has a thriving career as a writer, thousands of social-media followers and a healthy bleach-blonde mane. The run-up to summer, when the pavements around her home come alive and the parks transform into festival grounds, should mark the high point of her year. Instead, she feels wretched.

“I can get into my head all year round, but summer is the worst,” she says. “Everyone seems to be having a carefree time. But for me the idea of relaxation becomes a different kind of work – I’m forcing myself to have an unnatural amount of fun and making myself totally miserable.”

Moss, 34, suffers from “summerphobia” – a rare but potent form of anxiety that intensifies when social lives heat up, work conversations revolve around holiday plans or the “amazing” barbecue you went to at the weekend, and, according to Moss, “you feel like you have to shove almost an entire year’s worth of living into a few months”.

"When the boss triggers her out-of-office for two weeks, the freedom to plot my own routine feels more like torment" Credit: John Nguyen/JNVisuals Don’t confuse it with summertime SAD (seasonally affected disorder), the dread of debilitating heat that’s thought to affect five to 10 per cent of Britons, or the misery of hay fever that keeps an estimated 10 million Britons indoors and away from pollen. Summerphobia is less bound to actual weather than to the disorienting changes in lifestyle during the warmer months. Moss’s story resonates with me because I suffer from summerphobia, too. Born of a long line of indoorsy people, I grew up associating summer with concrete, city pools and visiting my heat-intolerant mum in her dark bedroom. As school ramped down, I braced myself for an exodus of certainty, routine and friends. This time of year, instead of pining for warmth, I yearn for September. "This time of year, instead of pining for warmth, I yearn for September" Credit: Geoff Pugh Novelist Douglas Coupland also gets it. In 2010, he coined the term “dimanchophobia” to express the discomfort people feel when the days of the week blend into one perpetual Sunday. If dimanchophobia’s poster child is Morrissey, he of the ominous hit Every Day Is Like Sunday, summerphobia’s is perhaps the maudlin singer Lana Del Rey, who, in the video for Summertime Sadness, dives elegantly off a cliff to her death. Not for nothing do researchers believe that summerphobia contributes to the high incidence of suicide in summer, with the UK consistently recording more in summer than winter. Yet as other neuroses begin to lose their social stigma, you wouldn’t catch me letting on how low I feel when everyone around me is on a high. Moss agrees: “Nobody wants to hear about your unhappiness in summer, and it just makes you feel more like a jerk – and mild guilt for being emotionally unwell. “But the warmth and beauty of the world is not enough to save me.” Therese Borchard, a mental-health activist from Maryland, calls it “Frisbee syndrome”, “when everyone is outside smiling and throwing a Frisbee and I know I should be happy because it’s nice outside”. As a child, Borchard says she spent 12 hours a day swimming and sunbathing in unforced bliss. Like other summerphobes, she still loves sunny, warm weather. But in adulthood, she’s found it difficult to release her “death-grip on life.” Therese Borchard refers to the condition as "frisbee syndrome" Credit: Compassionate Eye Foundation “I really need structure to my day, and when that loosens in summer, I flounder. Especially as a young mother, the lack of structure seemed to feed my ruminations and anxiety.” Dr Rita Santos, a London-based therapist specialising in anxiety-related phobias, blames the ambiguity of summer. “The days are longer, you have more time, it’s less socially acceptable to stay in and watch TV… that creates uncertainty in terms of how you live your life.” If there’s one thing I can count on, it’s that my friends and colleagues will make themselves scarce – particularly in August. When the boss triggers her out-of-office for two weeks, the freedom to plot my own routine feels more like torment. Hearing yet another neighbour plot her escape from daily life feels like a sucker punch to the gut. Calling it FOMO doesn’t quite cut it. I don’t fear missing out; I simply miss them. It sounds as shallow as the river I’m crying you. However, Santos comes to my defence. “Would an arachnophobe see his fear as superficial?” she asks. “It’s not just, ‘I don’t have a great holiday planned.’ If you feel abandoned and you don’t deal well with abandonment, you’ll be in a very bad place. Summer: the days are longer, you have more time Credit: Vladimir Piskunov/E+ “Not even [emotionally] healthy people react well to fuzzy ambiguous frameworks – they like to have clarity and security,” says Sam Vaknin, an expert in personality disorders and author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited. “Narcissists have identical reactions to fuzzy temporal status. The issue is abandonment anxiety, the sense that people aren’t constant. And summer is about absence – of structure, schedule, people and direction.” Vaknin, who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, says he abhors holidays, birthdays and especially summer, when “narcissistic supply” (psych-speak for “attention”) is hard to come by. But narcissism is no prerequisite for summerphobia. Nor is being a homebody. Or even being female, clearly. In Sydney, where summertime is nearly a perpetual state, Jonathan Seidler is known among his friends as the Mayor of Bondi, a fixture on the beach… in wintertime. He discovered not even he was immune to summerphobia when, around age 12, he began experiencing malaise during the less structured holiday season. He’d never excelled at idleness, and summer’s abrupt end to his regular schedule of activities developed into “terror of not being busy”. Now 29 and working as an ad copywriter and journalist, Seidler says his summerphobia is compounded by the rhythms of the communications industry in Sydney, where work winds down in late November, colleagues deploy their auto-replies and everyone starts drinking until January. “Summer here is less about the seasons completely changing than: ‘Oh my god, everything has shut down,’” he says. “In the midst of trying to act like it’s any other day, I’ll find myself lying in bed at 3pm, thinking: ‘I don’t want to do this. I can’t keep forcing myself to come up with things to do.’” Sufferers of summerphobia fear the endless stretches of time with no structure Credit: FilippoBacci That’s precisely the trap some summerphobes fall into, says Santos. Setting a busy schedule won’t address your loneliness or control issues. “It’ll help you endure, but it’s not going to make summer any better,” she says. “I imagine you’d get to September quite exhausted.” She suggests finding an activity that feels good at other times of year and partaking during the summer. “If trying to go along with everyone else isn’t changing your experience, change the strategy… If you keep knocking your head against the wall, it’s not the wall that’s going to break.” Seidler’s issue isn’t that all his friends leave town, it’s that they stick around. “For years I’ve operated on the prevailing attitude that summer is the best time of year, so why would anyone want to leave? I’m just now understanding perhaps that’s not right for me.” With summerphobia, there’s no cure-all coping strategy, but my plan is to face it head on. If work slows down, enjoy the freedom. If friends disappear, embrace the quiet. Vaknin recommends ditching the phone, too. It’s a symbol, he says, of “fake busyness”. “There’s a false equation between being busy and being alive. We’ve forgotten how to just be.”

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May/21/2017, 12:32 pm Link to this post  
 


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