How to tackle summertime sadness?

Michelle Litwer, Psy.D. | Postdoctoral Fellow

Are you experiencing summertime sadness and are bombarded with “you’re supposed to be happy in the summer, it’s the best time of year?” Are you struggling to live consistently with this statement? You are definitely not alone! There are many reasons as to why summer is not the season for everyone. Here are some of the reasons why:

  1. It’s hot outside: Heat can make people very uncomfortable- especially when there is pressure to engage in social activities around others. There also may be an expectation that while it’s hot outside, you “should” be engaging in outdoor activities. Guilt may increase from having a hard time getting outside.
  1. Lack of structured activity/routine: Some people are uncomfortable with the lack of routine in their everyday lives during the summer. This reduction in structure can influence people with emotional concerns to engage in binge eating behaviors, excessive napping, isolation, excessive spending, and increased boredom. 
  1. Body image concerns: Summer is a time where people are wearing clothing that is more exposed. People may experience anxiety just thinking about stepping outside in short sleeves and shorts. Comparisons start to increase when going to the beach/pool and seeing others in bathing suits and slimmer bodies. Someone who is uncomfortable with their body image may really struggle to enjoy summer time. 
  1. Less time with support system: Many of you may be taking vacations, be away from family/ friends, particular jobs, and school. This is especially important for teens/college students who are used to being surrounded by groups of people for 8 or more hours a day. Not being able to see the important people in your life can increase withdrawal/isolation. You may feel alone and disconnected from the people who are part of your social network.
  1. Financial concerns: Summer can get pretty expensive. Planning activities outside of the house, going on vacation, and having less structure can pressure people to spend an excessive amount of money. Boredom can prompt people to engage in impulsive spending which not only puts a dent in the wallet, but increases feelings of guilt and shame. 

Here are some helpful suggestions/tips on how to effectively get through the summer and manage some of the above concerns: 

  1. Engage in mindful activities indoors: Drop the idea that you have to go outside to engage in fun activities during the summer. Painting, drawing, building something, puzzles, watching TV/Movies, working on a project, reading a book, learning a new language, meditation, exercise (i.e., yoga, workout videos on YouTube), and dinner with friends can all be done indoors while cranking the AC. Be sure to explore Pinterest and blogs to get some creative ideas on summer crafts!  
  1. Create a summer bucket list: Creating a list of activities you want to conquer this summer can help create some structure in your schedule, and increase mastery in accomplishing goals. Some ideas for your list are books to read, acquiring a new skill (i.e., new language, an instrument, a type of dance), foods you want to try, movies to watch, places you haven’t visited near your home, people to reach out to, etc. When you accomplish an activity, be sure to cross it off and move on to the next. 
  2. Engage in volunteer opportunities: Summer is a great time to throw yourself into an activity that you wouldn’t usually have time for during the year. Not only does this give you the opportunity to keep busy, but you may find something you are passionate about and connected to. This can boost self-esteem and the ability to help others!
  1. Balance indoor activities with outdoor activities: Drop the “should” statements and the pressure to “always” being outside. However, you can also use summer as an opportunity to engage in outdoor hobbies. Exposure to fresh air and sunlight has known to increase serotonin levels and decrease anxiety. Going on several walks throughout the day (while staying hydrated), finding a bike trail/ going on a hike, gardening, relaxing at the pool/beach, reading a book at the park, visiting outdoor farmers markets, or sitting outside during a meal are just some options. Go out there and get some Vitamin D when you feel like it! 
  1. Stop comparing yourself to others: When engaging in comparisons to others, you may start to focus on your flaws and deficiencies, which gets in the way of being effective and appreciating the positive aspects of ourselves. Be sure to count your blessings, and avoid discounting blessings or exaggerating what you lack. 

Bonus tip:

*Remember to engage in these activities mindfully. So often we find ourselves not experiencing joy when we are doing things that we love. This could be because we are not paying attention to the experience. It is possible that you are stuck in ruminating thoughts, and you are missing out on the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Really throw yourself into the activity all the way and redirect your focus to the activity when you notice yourself drifting off. 

So.. stay cool, drop the image of what summer is “supposed” to be like, seek the help you need, and be mindful in the activities you engage in this summer. Accept the summertime sadness when it comes up, rather than judge it!

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