We look forward to summer, and then when we’re not as happy as everyone seems to be, we ask ourselves, “What’s wrong with me?” “
The answer: nothing. With my apologies to George Gershwin, summer isn’t all it’s meant to be for everyone.
The list of possible reasons is long. We have just come out of a pandemic school year where children’s (and parents’) schedules were disrupted, and now there is no school at all. The annual rhythm of school and then of summer was broken. If you are prone to mood disorders, planning for snafus can make you anxious.
It is also stressful to know what your children and grandchildren are going to be doing this summer. Camp? Swimming lessons? Sports? Either way, they’re more underfoot and you don’t want them watching TV all the time while you (maybe) are back in the office or still working remotely.
Then there is the weather. Some people like hot weather, but not everyone. Depending on where you live, it can be hot and dry; ridiculously humid (like the southeast); or stormy, with thunder, lightning, hail and high winds – even hurricanes and tornadoes. Weather disrupts your outdoor activity and exercise plans, and can even damage property.
This year, there is the added stress of adjusting to a post-pandemic summer and dealing with friends and family who may or may not have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Planning a vacation, going to the family reunion or attending that wedding? Sometimes it’s easier to stay home, like we did last year.
The list can go on and on, depending on your situation. Maybe your parents’ babysitter or the children’s babysitter is taking time off for the summer. Maybe you are worried about the money. Maybe you don’t like how you look in this swimsuit. As another song says, “Sometimes I wonder what I’m going to do because there is no cure for the summer blues.”
What you might be feeling is the summer version of Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD), which hits people more typically when the days get colder and shorter. If depression takes hold of you and you can’t get over it, ask your doctor if medication and talk therapy might help.
You are more likely to have a bad mood and low energy caused by some or all of the above factors. And you are not alone. There may not be a cure, but you can control how you deal with the summer blues.
Above all, don’t beat yourself up. Acknowledge your feelings, but you don’t have to call them “good” or “bad”. These are just feelings.
Can you explore why you are feeling what you are feeling? (Again, a therapist can help.) And once you’ve identified one or more causes, is there anything you can do about them? You can’t, for example, fix the weather, but you can structure your day a bit by giving yourself chores to complete while letting you relax with a good book and a glass of iced tea.
Speaking of iced tea, stay hydrated! As I wrote a few weeks ago, lack of hydration can have many negative effects on you, both physically and mentally. Drink plenty of water, but also enjoy other drinks and seasonal foods filled with water like watermelon and strawberries. If you are caring for an elderly family member, make sure they are also getting enough fluids. Dehydration can lead to a urinary tract infection, which sometimes causes symptoms similar to those of dementia.
Keep moving! Physical activity can be more difficult in the summer because of the heat. Move your daily walk early in the morning or late at night – the sun will always be there! Does your Medicare Advantage plan offer silver sneakers? Now may be the time to activate your membership and explore the gyms that you can use at no additional cost to you.
Social interaction can also help us feel better, so try not to isolate yourself indoors all day. Getting a haircut or manicure, volunteering at the food bank, visiting the library, or going to the movies with a friend will do a lot for your mood. Are you back in the office? Host a walk-and-talk meeting outside or have lunch with a colleague.
Much of our misery comes from thinking that we are not as happy as we should be. Summer isn’t all fun and games – it’s good to say it out loud. And remember summer will turn to fall before we know it.
• Teri Dreher is a Board Certified Patient Advocate. A critical care nurse for over 30 years, she is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). She offers a free 30-minute telephone consultation by dialing (312) 788-2640 to make an appointment.