The Reality of Summer Blues
The summer season often brings to mind thoughts of sunshine, vacations, and time with friends and family. While the summer is considered by many to be a season of fun and relaxation, it can also bring forth feelings of sadness, loneliness, and stress. One reason for this is summer-onset Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is characterized by feelings of depression during specific times of the year, typically during the colder months. Summer-onset SAD can be impacted by the longer days, extreme heat, and for youth, the change to their daily schedule. Parents are familiar with the constant complaints of boredom that their children face during the summer, but may not be aware that boredom can translate to depressive symptoms such as lethargy and low or irritable mood.
For others, the summer blues can be experienced without summer-onset SAD. One reason for this is the heightened expectation of enjoyment. We all hope to get the most out of our summer, and may experience feelings of jealousy or FOMO when social media shows us what others are doing. Also, the expectation to meet with friends, plan vacations, and reunite with family can drive up stress levels. Another reason for the summer blues is an increase in unrealistic body expectations, which can lower positive body image. The push for “summer bodies” can lead to feelings of shame once the summer arrives and we haven’t reached our desired body goals. Regardless of the cause, the summer blues can be addressed in a number of ways so that you make the most of the season. Here are some ways you can fight the summer blues:
Create Your Self-Care Routine
During the summer, people tend to dedicate more free time to others and less time to themselves. Be intentional about creating a self-care routine that revitalizes you and helps you recharge your battery. One way to do this is with a tool called the “Three-Pronged Stool of Self-Care”. Imagine self-care as a stool that stands on three prongs or legs: nutrition, sleep, and exercise. These three legs work together to enhance our self-care and boost our wellbeing. Nutrition is not only eating healthy, but also simply eating! When we are busy, we can forget to eat or may feel like eating isn’t a priority. Poor nutrition can tank our moods, so it is important to eat, even if it’s something small. Exercise can be as simple as a walk to the mailbox when we are feeling at our worst. Any movement is beneficial and works to lift our mood. Lastly, sleep is necessary for our bodies and minds to repair. If a healthy sleep schedule is hard to maintain, consider and minimize the distractions present right before bed, such as screen time.
One of the reasons our self-care may take a hit during the summer is the increase in invitations and obligations that we say yes to. While we may fear missing out on fun summer activities, we also notice a greater drain on our social battery when we neglect to set boundaries with others. Prioritize your needs first, and then consider the engagements that excite you or stress you out. Learn to limit the number of engagements you keep for others that increase your stress. Saying no can be hard, especially when it comes to our family members. Remind yourself that your needs are important, and it is impossible to pour from an empty cup. Boundary-setting is a useful practice regardless of the season. The summer is a great time to practice setting boundaries, which can improve relationships and our own sense of control in life.
Spend Time in Nature
The outdoors provide a natural remedy to many emotional ailments. Studies have shown that walking can greatly reduce symptoms of anxiety, and natural light has been known to improve symptoms of depression. If you find it hard to connect with nature due to the heat, find ways to get outside in the evenings. One benefit of more daylight in summer is the increased ability to stay outside without being in complete darkness. Take a late stroll through the neighborhood with your loved ones or pets. You can also sit outside on a porch or balcony to get some fresh air. If you’re not ready to be fully outside, try opening a window to invite a natural breeze into your home. These small changes can lead to major mood enhancement.
Is it Just the Summer?
It’s important to also consider if your depressive symptoms persists during other times of the year. The summer may hold triggers that worsen our symptoms, but isn’t always the cause of our low mood. Take inventory of when your symptoms began. Are there other life stressors that have recently occurred? Maybe the increase in social obligation is highlighting strained relationships with others, or the decrease in positive body image is indicative of ongoing self-esteem concerns. If you notice that your low mood persists beyond the summer, it is important to seek professional help. Doing the work now to take care of yourself will set you up for a more enjoyable summer next year!
This blog was written by Imani Crawford, MSW, LCSWA.