The Summertime, Summertime Sadness

Lana Del Rey

Be honest with yourself, do you have it?

You know what I’m talking about.

For some of us, summer is a time of excitement and celebration.  Many people thrive on travel plans, family visits and 9 p.m. sunsets.  They enjoy the heat.  For people without body image issues or gender dysphoria, swimsuit season is no problem.  For the able-bodied, the expectation of increased physical activity means fun, fun times.

For many of us, however, at least some of the above events are causes of stress.  When that stress goes unaddressed, it can lead to depression.  One difficult part of summer can be the perceived expectation of happiness.  If we aren’t “happy”, we might get the sense that other people are wondering what is wrong with us.

It helps some people to know that they are not alone.   There has been a lot written about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and there are lots of effective coping strategies to get through the dark time of the year.  Summer depression is rarer (about 10% of people with SAD get it in the summer), and there isn’t as much information published about it.  It’s real, though, and often doesn’t manifest the same way as winter depression.

Summer has a high-energy quality, and it is sometimes difficult to get grounded.  Anxiety can run high as we find our schedules booked up with vacations.  Vacations are great, but planning them takes a lot of emotional energy.  There can be a lot of pressure on us to make the vacation go well.  If we do not make our summer plans in a mindful, self-loving way, we can end up taking care of everyone while neglecting our own needs.

I have also found that people in relationships sometimes struggle in the summer.  With partners traveling, our relational insecurities may be heightened.  If we are traveling WITH partners, latent tensions in our relationships can become worse.  I see more breakups in the summer than at any other time of year, which is probably the most common reason that people give me setting up their first summertime session.

Another issue that does not get discussed is how expensive summer actually is.   Many people love to travel, but the financial burden of travel is rarely discussed. One of my offices is in Boulder, where people are struggling to pay the increasingly high rent costs.  For them, travel may be out of the question.  Unfortunately, people in this situation often stay home with feelings of inadequacy or throw themselves into debt to keep up with their more affluent friends.

If you are struggling with the “summertime sadness”, self-care becomes all the more important. There is a great article with some tips on how to take care of your mental health:

To these tips, I would add the following with regards to sleep:

  • If sleep is difficult, try soft music, nature sounds or progressive relaxation exercises before bed.  Try a few different things until you find out what works best for you.
  • Turn your phone and computer off at least one hour before sleep.  Your brain will interpret screens as daylight, and think that the sun still hasn’t set.  This will keep you up, especially if you read/watch something stimulating.
  • If you do take in media, avoid violent or suspenseful movies. Even if you love them, keep in mind that they put your nervous system on high alert. Your autonomic nervous system does not know the difference between real violence and movie violence.
  •  If news or politics evokes a strong emotional reaction in you, limit your exposure to such things to one hour per day (And not before bed!).

As far as vacations are concerned, here are a few more tips: 

  • Respect your limitations and boundaries around time, energy and money. If an expensive vacation is too much, try a relaxing “staycation”, spending time with friends and family at home.
  • Make a list of things to do in town that are inexpensive, or even free.  Research museums, nearby parks and wildlife preserves.   There are several lists online for summer fun on a budget,  Here is one to get you started:
  • Getting some exercise and time outside will be helpful, but only push your body as far is it can go!   Don’t compare yourself to your athletic friends, especially if you struggle with a chronic illness.   Your body knows what it needs to stay as healthy as it can, and you know your body more than anyone else.

And with regards to relationships:

  • Discuss your needs and boundaries with loved ones BEFORE situations become emotionally tense.
  • If you have difficulty getting words out, try journaling about these things before talking about them in person.  Sometimes, just writing these things out for yourself is a huge step in the right direction.
  • If you have a therapist, bring your journal to the session and talk about what you wrote.   Your therapist can help you work on assertiveness skills.

Above all, remember that the feelings which arise for you during summer are valid.  Beating yourself up will only make things worse.  Surround yourself with support and work as many calming activities into your schedule as possible.