How to cope with 'heatwave guilt' – the pressure to be having fun in the sun

Whenever the sun comes out in the UK, we become different people with different priorities.

Every waking second not in work should be spent in a beer garden, or frolicking in the park, or squeezing into a deckchair on an overcrowded pebble beach.

We stop drinking water and instead attempt to hydrate ourselves exclusively with rosé or gin and tonics in tins. The evenings are endless. Bedtime? Don’t know her.

The sun melts into our bones and nothing matters but soaking up every precious, glittering minute of it. Shifting our blankets further and further to keep pace with the last patch of sun in the garden.

This manic, frenetic energy towards the sun is triggered by just how limited good weather is this country. We don’t get all that many truly sunny days – days of real summer, bare arms and warmth that lingers into the evening.

So, that generates a weird kind of pressure – and guilt if you’re not out basking in it. All the time.

If you’ve ever sat on your sofa and felt the sun’s accusatory glare through your window, you will know this feeling. How can you sit inside and binge Netflix on such a beautiful day? Are you a monster?

Heatwaves don’t care if you’re exhausted, drained, anxious, or in dire need of rest. The sun is here to remind you that you should be outside having fun, and social media does the same thing.

‘Social media plays a huge role in people experiencing FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out),’ says mental health campaigner and broadcaster Neev Spencer.

‘We see people flocking like sun craved birds to their local beaches to take a pic with an ice cream in one hand and a beverage in the other. As humans, we love to show off. It’s inbuilt in us from childhood to want to display our best bits and get some all-important praise for it.’

Neev adds that in countries that are used to getting lots of hot weather, midday naps and avoiding the hottest parts of the day are the norm. But we Brits are hardwired to get overexcited when we see the sun.

‘Shops and restaurants close during the hottest parts of the day so that everyone can cool off and stay safe,’ says Neev. ‘But here in the UK, we simply don’t get as much sun, so when we do, is it any wonder we go all out?’  

It’s also important to remember that we are only just coming out of a year-long lockdown. When it comes to making plans and seeing friends, we are severely out of practice, and it is completely understandably if you can’t keep up with the constant social demands required of a heatwave.

Neev says that as well as the guilt and FOMO, extended periods of warm weather pile on additional pressure because not everybody copes well in the heat.

‘For some, a heatwave can be the absolute opposite of anything good,’ says Neev. ‘The feeling of suffocation the heat brings can be something people struggle with.

‘Lack of sleep due to hot weather and the feeling of pressure to get out there and “make the most of it”. Capturing amazing selfies, soaking up those rays – it can be marred with a feeling of loss of control. 

‘The hot weather can also increase stress when we get hot and bothered. Things like road rage and even violence – as the temperatures soar, so can our emotions.’  

How to feel OK with not going out in the sun

So, how do we push back against this nagging pressure to be out living our best lives in the sunshine?

Is there a way to shut the curtains and turn down a handful of BBQ invites, without feeling like a killjoy, or feeling insecure about not having enough fun?

‘The key is to stay true to who you are and keep yourself and your needs in check,’ says Neev.

‘Yes, you might want to rush out there and join your friends at the pub some days, but take your time and do what you’re comfortable with.

‘Putting pressure on yourself at a time when your body is already trying to adjust to the soaring temperatures isn’t going to help or give you the kind of relaxation you anticipated.’

Neev says that when you want to claim some time back for yourself, it’s important to keep a check on how you’re engaging with social media.   

‘Social media is the guilty pleasure we all share, but it can cause unnecessary stress and pressure, especially in an unpredictable time like right now,’ she explains.

‘Always ground yourself in the knowledge that what you see isn’t always what you get. You may see your friends or colleagues having the “time of their lives” in the sunshine, but bear in mind that if that were truly the case, they might not have had the time to take quite so many carefully curated pictures for their Instagram stories. Being present will always be 100% cooler than not.’  

After a year of lockdowns and disruption, many of us made pledges that we weren’t going to return to the same pace of life that we lived in before Covid. That includes setting boundaries and not always bowing to pressure from others.

‘For many of us, the last year has changed us for good,’ says Neev. ‘We are more conscious than ever about our needs, wants and values, but with that may come a sense of fear. Fear that all the things we want could vanish in an instant, and that’s scary.

‘We still don’t know what this new post-Covid life looks and feels like, so don’t be surprised if you need some time to adjust.’

On a practical level, if you do decide to get involved in the heatwave fun this summer, it’s important to be careful. Sunburn and heat stroke are very real things for amateur sun worshippers. 

‘Take it easy, use the highest factor and stay hydrated to protect yourself,’ advises Neev. ‘There are another five heatwaves forecast this summer so far, so plenty of time to get out there and enjoy it – you don’t need to cram it all in now.’

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