Summertime Blues

summertime sad

At the risk of being accused of negativity and pessimism, I’m going out on a limb here to declare my truth: Life’s not a beach even IN the summertime! Not for caregivers who need to fill seven days a week with activities, not for hardworking professionals who want to join their families on vacation but can’t, and not even for educators who allegedly have a two-month vacation built in. We want to take time off, to rest and rejuvenate; we expect that we can, we should, we must! We want to experience the joy felt when we were kids, the freedom and lack of burden we had back then. But instead, we find ourselves feeling down, the fear of missing out for the overworked, or the boredom and listlessness for the underworked. We feel like the day after fireworks: the thrill is gone. The summertime blues are real.

For some, it’s the loss of a structured schedule that leaves them feeling restless or out of sorts. For others, the extreme heat or weather events cause anxiety. And for others, it’s actual SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, that occurs not just for people in Seattle ten months of the year, but for thousands of others including, more often than not, women and those living close to the equator. According to UCI Health, summertime sufferers of SAD may feel “restless, agitated, have trouble sleeping and eating…[or even feel] anxiety and anger.” If you feel you’re suffering from SAD, having a conversation with your health or mental health care provider might be an important step on your road to feeling better. Short of that, psychiatrist Dr. Rimal Bera, MD, says,

“The best things you can do are to eat well, exercise, and have meaningful relationships with people who make you feel like you matter.”

When I first read this last quote, it made me laugh, which, as it so happens, research shows to be good medicine as well. But seriously: eat well, exercise, and maintain good relationships?! Gee, doc: thanks for that revolutionary treatment plan! I’m going to give that a try! My inner snark was fully triggered, and I was about to write this whole thing off as malarky. But then, my inner coach stepped in, coming to the rescue with an alternative perspective. What if it really is that simple, as Dr. Bera says, and I already have the tools at my disposal to peace and joy again this summer?

Perhaps the summertime blues is a problem like any other, one that can be addressed cognitively and emotionally through intentional inner work. When I am feeling in the midst of a problem, my existing state needs acknowledgement, my desired state needs recognition, and my path forward needs illumination. I shall PACE myself to LEAD myself when I’m feeling the summertime blues.


So what’s coming up for you as you think about your summer activities?
I’m feeling like I want to slow down, take lots of time to just do nothing and chill out, but my children need lots of activities to keep them happy and satisfied and their summer camp is only a month long, and my mother wants to come visit but she’s very needy when she’s here so I can’t get much done, and I still have tons of things to do at work. It’s too much! I just wish the weather outside could reflect how I feel inside, like be more gray and rainy, then maybe they’d be happy to just sit and watch movies. Entertain themselves! Isn’t that what we did as kids? Went for long walks in the woods because we were bored and looking for something to do?

You’re feeling a bit anxious, because you have many other people and their needs to take care of, and you feel as though you can’t take care of yourself.
Yeah. Yeah, it really feels like that.

And what you want is to be able to have some time to meet your own needs, including self-care. So you’re looking for a way to make that happen.
Yup. That’s it precisely. How can I even enjoy the weekends when I know those are still the only times I have to get all the errands done and stuff around the house? Even planning an actual vacation is so much work! Not to mention the expense. But the planning itself takes a lot of mental energy, coordinating and trying to make everyone happy.

Yeah. You’re expressing the pressure you’re under to “do it all.” When you’ve felt this pressure before, what did you do that was effective to relieve the feeling?
Well, talking to my partner helps. Sharing with my partner how I’m feeling, and maybe asking for help. He just assumes everything’s fine until I explode. So maybe asking for help.

It’s important to you that you’ve got a support system in place, that you feel supported.
Yeah, actually. I hadn’t thought of that. But yeah; he always says, “I’m on your side!” And when I talk to him he usually helps create a plan so whatever the problem is can get better.

What might be a key variable this summer that can offer the greatest impact on relieving your stress?
Hmmm. I guess it’s making a plan, right? My kids need structured activities, and my mom needs a set schedule, so a plan makes sense. I can post it on the refrigerator. And maybe instead of just relying on my partner I can include the kids and mom in that plan. Like, I can set some priorities and necessities with my partner, and then have those ready like “non-negotiables” to bring to the table with the kids and grandma.

What might be some of the non-negotiables for YOU, not for your kids or mom or partner or job, but just for you?
Oh, right. Things I need for ME. That’s where this started, right? Hahaha yeah. Let’s see. I want to have at least one day a weekend that’s just for play, just for something I want to do. Like maybe it’s family time, like we could go kayaking or something, but maybe it’s just for me. To get my nails done, or have a massage, or meet friends for lunch or something. And maybe I can actually better schedule my own work time. I realize I never take an actual lunch—I just eat at my desk. Maybe I really start insisting on taking a lunch hour. I can go for a walk, meet a friend for coffee, or even like read a book in peace and quiet because mom took the kids to the park. That’d be really great. And also, going back to Dr. Bera, making sure I am eating well and exercising, too. I never prioritize those things, but healthy eating and regularly exercising are super important. So yeah. Building in a daily lunch hour walk might help me just, you know, stop and smell the roses a little.

How has this conversation been helpful to you?
Well, it’s reminded me of my own capacity to be a self-directed, reflective decision-maker. I am not at the mercy of others, or of others’ needs and schedules! And it’s a reminder that I have people who love me and care about me and want me to feel relaxed and joyful this summer and always. And that one of those people is actually ME!

So there it is. Talking, even with oneself, transforms thinking. And feeling. Hand in hand with the cognitive shift I experienced is also the emotional one: shifting the weight of unaddressed emotions off my heart, just by naming them out loud. It’s been a good exercise for me to coach myself, to work the muscles I know I have, in service of myself.

What coaching conversations might you benefit from having with yourself?