With summer almost here, many of us breathe a sigh of relief: with the cold of the winter months gone, we can comfortably spend more time outside. You might enjoy taking a dip in the pool, having dinner on an outdoor patio, and attending the slew of summer social events such as barbeques, graduation parties, and summer weddings. But for some people with anxiety disorders, the summer season can bring about great distress.
Anxiety Disorders affect about 40 million Americans age 18 and over—and none of these anxiety disorders go on hiatus to allow these 40 million anxiety sufferers to fully enjoy the summer season. Specific Phobias and Social Anxiety Disorder are two types of anxiety disorders that can make summer a season of heightened distress.
Specific Phobias and Social Anxiety Disorder
Specific Phobias are an extreme fear of and aversion to a particular thing or situation. Common specific phobias include fear of dogs, snakes, spiders, heights, or the sight of blood or needles. If you have a phobia, you most likely recognize that your fear is not rational. There’s no logical reason you can think of for the sight of your phobic object or situation to inspire such extreme terror. But reason with yourself as you might, your extreme fear does not abate.
For people with Social Anxiety Disorder, attending social gatherings—big or small—can bring extreme anxiety resulting from a fear of being seen and judged by others or doing something that might cause embarrassment or ridicule. This intense anxiety then triggers the body’s nervous system to rev up, causing physical reactions including blushing, sweating, stammering, dizziness or disorientation, shaking hands or heart palpitations. The only remaining course of action, it might seem, is to avoid that which you fear.
Yet avoidance isn’t your only option. If you do suffer from anxiety, treatment is well worth your while. There are many simple and effective treatments for anxiety disorders. Consider Sharon*, who suffers from arachnophobia, the intense fear of spiders. Sharon came to therapy at the insistence of her husband, David*.
“Boating is David’s passion. He loves that boat of his like it’s his child,” Sharon said in her first session. “But do you know how many spiders can be on a single boat? I just can’t do it. I tried to tolerate it to be with David, but I gave up. So now, we spend most of our weekends apart, David on the boat and me at home.”
When asked if her spider phobia affected other areas of her life, Sharon responded: “Well, yes, actually, it has gotten worse. Lately, I’ve stopped gardening in the summer, which I used to love. Now that I think about it, I don’t really enjoy summers much anymore because I live in absolute terror that I’ll see a spider when I go outside.”
After only a summer’s worth of psychotherapy, Sharon’s experience of summer was forever changed. Her once paralyzing fear of spiders shifted to a tolerable dislike. In my book Anxiety Disorders: The Go-to Guide for Clients and Therapists, I offer a survival guide to understand and manage anxiety across the spectrum of anxiety disorders: Specific Phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Summer needn’t trigger a hotbed of physical discomfort and emotional unrest. With targeted treatment approaches, you can learn to experience a sense of ease and even pleasure in the situations that you once feared and avoided, and enjoy a life no longer constrained by summer fears. Regardless of the particular anxiety disorder, recovery is possible and it doesn’t take years!
*Names have been altered