By Amelia Powelson, PsyD
When people think of summer, they often think of sunshine and happiness. But just because the weather warms and the sun comes out doesn’t mean that everyone’s mood changes. Although summer can (literally) make our lives brighter, some common mental health challenges often arise. In fact, many of them are heightened or accentuated. The factors that lead to someone feeling depressed or anxious are endless, but here are a few summer-specific examples.
Isolating isn’t as socially acceptable. In the winter, people tend to hibernate. “Netflix and chill” isn’t just a dating-app tagline; it’s often your plan for Friday night (and sometimes Saturday night and Sunday, too)
In the summer, that changes. The weather gets nicer, people become more active, and there are suddenly more invitations coming your way.
Lake next weekend?
With these invitations come expectations. In the winter, people typically understand if you want to stay in and have a low-key evening. In the summer, friends expect you to come out of the house and be social.
Their expectation, however, shouldn’t become your stressor. While it is nice to see friends and be social – and while it is good to take advantage of those opportunities while Mother Nature allows – it can also be overwhelming, especially if you have different friend groups all over the city.
How to combat this: Decide which activities you’ll do on which days, and decide which days you’ll reserve for self-care. This doesn’t mean you have to have the same schedule every week, nor does it mean you can’t see friends on back-to-back days. But if you plan on going out on Friday and Saturday, perhaps you’ll pass on Thursday trivia so you can rest up for the busy weekend ahead.
Setting a schedule and sticking to it will prevent you from over-extending yourself. Enjoy summer while it lasts, but don’t be afraid to pass on an invitation if you need to recharge and focus on you.
Summer can be expensive. Another reason it’s good to say no to some summer invitations? Money. More social activities means more money, which people typically spend more of in the summer.
It’s not just brunch and patio activities, either. It’s vacations. It’s holiday weekends. It’s out-of-town weddings. Wait, the flight, hotel and bridesmaid dress cost how much? And I still have to bring a gift?
Long story short: summer is not cheap. If you’re not careful, your paycheck could be gone before you get it, which will only lead to stress and feeling down on yourself.
How to combat this: Plan. Budget. Repeat.
Maybe a bunch of your Instagram friends are on vacation or traveling for the holiday weekend, but for you, money is tight. That’s OK. Maybe a summer vacation isn’t in the budget this year. Or maybe one vacation is, but not two (or three or four).
Either way, take stock of your finances. Determine what is important to you and what isn’t. See what you can afford and what you can’t. Then go from there. Your family and friends will understand if you must pass on an invite. Missing out can be hard, but so is credit-card debt. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do, be excited about what you can do.
Body issues resurface. Being insecure about your body is about as common as a sunrise. In the summer, though, it’s a whole different challenge to tackle. Your wardrobe changes with the seasons, and when it’s hot, you feel on display. From tank tops to bathing suits, it becomes difficult to hide your body. You long for the days of bulky sweaters and thick jackets. You regret those winter nights of deep dish and dessert. You feel guilty about not going to the gym this week (or last week).
Then it happens. You compare yourself to others, feel inferior, and begin to think less of yourself as a person.
We are our own worst critic – and almost always to an unfair and unrealistic degree. When it comes to your body image, all that matters is you. It doesn’t matter if someone else has a smaller this or a more defined that (especially if that someone has been airbrushed and photoshopped).
How to combat this: Focus more on yourself and less on others. If you find yourself feeling self-conscious about your body, reconsider some of your wardrobe choices. Instead of wearing something tight that will make you feel hot and sweaty, wear something loose that will make you feel comfortable and confident. If you would like to lose some weight, write down actionable steps you can take to achieve your goals. Always make being healthy (not skinny) your focus.
Remember to breathe and be kind to yourself. Your body is exactly what it is: a body. It does not define you or your worth.
Summer is a wonderful time of year that affords us many opportunities to spend quality time with family and friends. Still, it can be an incredibly stressful time as your schedule changes and your social calendar ramps up.
Summer can also lead to other challenges. Perhaps you’re a college student preparing for your first internship. Perhaps you’re a recent graduate transitioning to the “real world.” Perhaps you’re a parent trying to figure out childcare for the summer. Whatever the case may be, it can become much more difficult to stick to a routine and stay on top of everything. People often internalize that pressure, which can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can take steps to avoid common mental health challenges that often arise during summer. If you need help – or just want to talk to someone – please feel free to contact me at 312.313.0367 or email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you!