Summer is typically a time for unwinding with family and friends. Traditionally, the advent of the summer solstice and those longer, warmer days are supposed to mean more freed-up time for rest and recreation. Backyard barbecues, afternoons by the pool, long weekend getaways, and seaside vacations are what summer’s about—or what we expect it to be.
For a lot of ordinary working Americans and their families, though, the summer brings its own pressures and stressors. This summer especially has been rough. The challenge: how to unwind, not unravel. If the summertime has you feeling frazzled or down, don’t beat yourself up: Chances are there are multiple causes. We’ll explore some of the many reasons mental health can suffer at this time of the year and offer some tips for how to destress if the goal is to unwind.
4 Summertime Stress Triggers to Be Mindful of
The arrival of summer triggers a sense of release or relief for many people, but that can leave them less prepared for the very real stressors unique to this time of the year. Knowledge is power, though. Mindfulness about the ways in which summer can be stressful—sometimes more stressful than at other times of the year—can be a buffer that eases your landing. Here are some triggers to be mindful of:
1. New financial pressures
Usually, the summer is when families can take vacations because school is out for an extended period. At the same time, though, many people don’t get paid during the summer. A case in point: teachers. They may have time off, but without the income that would enable a real family vacation.
This summer especially has been financially rough for many individuals and families. Financial pressures are rising as we head into a complex recession and rising prices are impacting our wallets. Sky-high prices at the pump and in grocery stores are just two of many ways that record levels of inflation are causing genuine financial distress.
When the costs of just about everything these days are way up, that puts the squeeze on any disposable income that might otherwise fund a much-needed vacation. Many of us who manage to afford a planned vacation still feel the financial burden. Nationally, we struggle with rising costs of airfares, hotels, and resort areas.
2. Childcare pressures
Yet another summertime stressor that can creep up and hit families particularly hard: childcare pressures. For working parents, outlets like summer camps are critical—yet they can also be expensive and introduce new, sometimes stressful changes to a previously comfortable routine. Getting childcare with the help of camps, and family members, and taking time off ourselves can lead to pressure.
3. Work pressures
With colleagues taking vacations and work piling up, often we are asked to do more than we are prepared for. Sometimes the lead-up to a vacation or re-acclimation after one can be its own kind of stress.
4. Mental health and addiction triggers
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is most common in winter but what many people don’t know is that SAD also presents in the summer. The longer days can tell us that we should be doing more while the sun is out. Sometimes, too, the heat and humidity, in combination with the longer days, can affect our energy and circadian rhythms. Symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depressive disorders may emerge in response. (Learn how mental health treatment at FHE Health is helping people feel better and restore brain health.)
Summer months may also mean more parties and social functions where drinking is encouraged and can be a trigger for those in recovery. Be conscious of increased alcohol consumption since it could mean you’re self-medicating an untreated behavioral health issue.
Some Tips for Unwinding
You may be struggling with the loss of sleep, changes in appetite, irritability, or a short temper due to heightened stress and the heat. If so, be gentle with yourself. If the above list of summertime triggers means anything, it’s this: There’s plenty of stress to go around at this time of year, so don’t beat yourself up for being affected by it.
Instead, give yourself permission to take it easy and de-stress. Be intentional about slowing down and mindful of the many little things in the span of one day to enjoy and be grateful for. Take time to be in the moment, practice mindfulness, leave work at work, and come home to enjoy the warmth of family and friends. If you are unable to travel, find a peaceful place in your yard and make it your own vacation spot. Take time to cook meals outside and enjoy the fair weather. Invite friends to enjoy your outdoor space but make time for your personal oasis also.
Unwind, don’t unravel!
Sometimes unwinding includes better time management. We tend to stress over incomplete projects at work and at home. When we avoid addressing important projects, completing tasks, and having difficult conversations, at times we add to our own stress.
The following suggestions may help. Make lists and cross off tasks upon completion. It gives a sense of progress and pride. Triage tasks, by putting the most difficult ones earlier in the day—for a greater sense of completion and accomplishment by the end of the day. Reach out to encourage others in your work and home life.
Lightening your approach can reduce stress, and when stress feels manageable, it’s easier to enjoy more of the many things that make the summer good.
Janet B. Gerhard is Director of Public and Community Affairs for FHE Health, a national behavioral health provider.