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Summer Through Different Lenses: Navigating Sunshine and Shadows 

Memorial Day is just around the corner, signaling the arrival of summer! It’s a season filled with warm sunshine, tasty ice cream treats, and exciting vacations – truly a delightful time of year. However, for many individuals, summer also presents its own set of challenges. Despite the anticipation of this vibrant season, certain adjustments can make fully savoring the hotter weather more complex for some. What circumstances arise during the summer months? How can we address them effectively to ensure everyone can make the most of this season? Let’s examine these aspects and explore strategies to navigate through the sunshine and the shadows.

Warmer Physical Conditions  

Seasonal affective disorder is a common difficulty that many people suffer from. It’s often associated with the colder winter months and presents itself through lower energy or motivation to do things. However, recent studies have shown that SAD can also rear its head in the summer months. In fact, this study by Jama Psychiatry claims that heat increases can lead to more patients seeking mental health support. The increased temperature leads to more agitation and discomfort – two emotions that can be very difficult to deal with. If you find yourself with a shorter temper than usual in the next few months, the warmer weather might have something to do with it.  

Disruptions to Routine 

Before my current role at the Chapman Foundation, I was a 7th-grade math teacher. I have a very strong memory of chatting with one of my students while working car rider duty one afternoon towards the end of the school year. About five minutes into our conversation, she just looked at me and gave me a big hug. She held on for quite some time, and when I looked down, I noticed a tear rolling down her cheek. Concerned, I asked her what was wrong, and her 12-year-old response made my heart melt – she was so sad she would be away from her friends and teachers for three months. These people she was so used to interacting with daily would be absent from her life for what seemed like forever to her. Consider the children in your life – will any of them have a tough time being pulled away from their usual social interactions? 

On a related note, our schedules provide structure to our daily lives throughout the year. This gets somewhat stripped away during the summer. Ask yourself how your schedule changes during the summer and what impact that might have. Could this be the cause of some new stress or agitation?  

Unmet Expectations

I can get nostalgic thinking back to my middle school self, making a bucket list of everything I wanted to accomplish over the three months of my newfound freedom during summer. Pool parties, hanging out with friends, signing up for camps – just a few things I always looked forward to. Inevitably, the summer would get away from me, and by the time back to school rolled around, I had done maybe half of the things on my list. I used to beat myself up for not taking advantage of those three months as fully as I thought I should.  

Now, as an adult, I still find myself having grand ideas of all of the things I want to do for the summer. It’s common to feel pressure to “make the most of our time” during this season. When those big plans don’t happen, we can become pretty disappointed with ourselves and wonder if we wasted the time. How do we remain kind to ourselves if we can’t do it all? 

Where to Go From Here?

So, what do we do with this information? There doesn’t seem to be a quick and easy fix—it’s still going to get hot in the summer, and most of us aren’t putting our kids in school year-round—so how do we make this time a little bit easier? Below are three exercises you can work through when you recognize that your emotions and logic might be a bit out of balance.  

What are your catalysts? 

For those of you who are alumni of Our Community Serves, you might remember completing an activity where you had to identify your “emotional catalysts” – those behaviors, situations, words, etc, that elicit an emotional response from you. Would you consider any of the above situations as an emotional catalyst? Maybe you are someone who loves routine and has now lost it. Maybe extreme heat is a catalyst. Identify the catalysts that might arrive during the summer season so you can be prepared for them when they do. Being prepared for a catalyst lessens the impact of it and makes it easier for us to manage our emotional response. 

Vent it out  

You might recall the logic and emotion bubbles from Our Community Listens. When we are filled with emotion, the most helpful thing that someone else can do to bring us back into balance is to listen to us. Recall the image of listening serving to “pull the plug”. When you’re agitated by someone’s behavior or sad about missing a friend, ask yourself if there is someone you can go to who will give you the space to vent it out and bring you back to balance. As someone who has a hard time seeking out people to listen to me, I’m always amazed by how much better I feel when I let myself open up and be listened to.  

Hold empathy for yourself  

We spend a lot of time in Our Community Listens talking about and practicing the skill of empathizing with another person, and it makes me wonder what it would be like to give empathy to ourselves. When we don’t check off every single hope and expectation we had for the summer, do we beat ourselves up? Or do we give ourselves grace and celebrate all of the things that we did accomplish? Easier said than done, but this article from Positive Psychology gives some great tips on being kinder to ourselves at all times of the year, not just in the summer. 

I hope this summer is filled with joy, time with friends and family, and soaking up that extra vitamin D. When you experience some summertime sadness, consider why it might be and how you want to respond. Sign up for one of our upcoming virtual Roundtables here for more opportunities to dive into topics like this and to share strategies with other Our Community Listens alumni across the country.