For many of us, summer is the best time of year – with warmer weather, holidays and a full social calendar.
Not everyone feels the same way, though. If you’re self-conscious about your skin, you might dread the hot weather – making it hard to enjoy everything summer has to offer.
“You are in your skin all day long,” says Lee-Anne Meleagrou, psychologist at the Priory Group, speaking on behalf of free global mental health app My Possible Self. “So it is, unfortunately, something you are constantly exposed to.”
This can be particularly tough if you are affected by skin conditions – such as eczema, psoriasis, scarring or acne – and possibly feel self-conscious about it.
“There are lots of activities in the summer – such as sitting out in the park, sunbathing, or going swimming – that maybe require us to show our skin off a bit more, and that can be really difficult [for some people],” says Meleagrou.
Some people might try to ‘mask’ whatever they want to hide in long clothing. “This can result in other people asking questions, or maybe making comments like, ‘Oh my goodness, are you not hot?’
We know people don’t go around trying to be hurtful, but that can cause a huge amount of anxiety, if someone is constantly picking up on your warmer weather clothing,” Meleagrou adds.
She describes how this can lead to “avoidance behaviour – so we end up saying no to social events, and maybe not meeting up with people when it’s very sunny and hot. That then leads to other problems, such as isolation and loneliness.”
Meleagrou suggests there’s sometimes potential for it to snowball into a vicious cycle. “Our mind and our physical body interact,” she explains.
“So when we feel low or anxious, it can have dermatological consequences for our skin. Anxiety is a well-known trigger of the stress response, which is linked to problems such as acne, eczema and rosacea.
“Not just can stress cause skin problems [to flare up in people affected by certain conditions], but skin problems themselves cause stress.
Blemishes and dark spots on our skin can have the potential to affect how we feel emotionally. But it’s a catch-22, a vicious cycle of: my skin affects my anxiety, but my anxiety about my skin can also then make my skin worse.”
While Meleagrou doesn’t recommend turning “a blind eye to your skin condition” – she recommends treating it properly if you’re able to, with help from medical professionals.
“We also need to focus on our mental health, and specifically around what feelings they are creating, and what behaviours it results in,” she adds.
These are just some things you might want to consider if you’re struggling with your skin and mental health this summer…
Be kind to yourself
Meleagrou recommends thinking about how you speak to yourself. “Keeping a positive mantra in mind can be really helpful, particularly on days where maybe you’ve had a flare-up, or you feel really self-conscious about your skin,” she says.
“So something like: ‘I’m so much more than my skin’, ‘It doesn’t define me’, ‘My body is an instrument, not an ornament’, or, ‘Even though I will allow myself to feel my feelings around my skin, I’m not going to let it ruin my day’.
“Having these positive, affirmative phrases for ourselves can really help us through the day. It’s also about reminding yourself of what you are thankful for.”
Watch what you consume
It’s easy to doom-scroll on social media, only to emerge feeling worse about yourself. That’s why Meleagrou advises “reducing the amount of media we are consuming. There are unrealistic portrayals of bodies and beauty and skin out there. And with filters on Instagram, people start believing everyone has perfect skin.
“The reality is, most people – if not all people – have imperfect skin. It might be an actual skin condition, or it might be pores – our skin is really something that varies. It’s not stable, it’s not always going to look the exact same.
“But sometimes if we look at social media, we forget it’s a highlight reel of someone’s life, or how they look that day – and we don’t consider the filters and the make-up, and that it’s unrealistic.”
Talk to someone
“Talking about how we’re feeling or what we feel self-conscious about is so important, because it allows us to get support form other people,” suggests Meleagrou. “It also creates a deeper connection, because the friend might acknowledge their own insecurity around something else.”
If you don’t have someone you feel like you can talk to about your insecurities, Meleagrou advises reaching out to a mental health professional: “Rather than doing it all on your own, find someone who can help you.”
She also recommends using the mental health app My Possible Self, which has mindfulness exercises you can try and mood trackers, where you can “link how your skin is actually impacting your mood, and the connection between them”.