Days are getting longer, the sun is getting warmer and school is OUT. It’s summer, the season of backyard barbecues and sun-tanning on the beach. Who could feel anything but joyful?
Well...a lot of people, actually. Although you wouldn’t know it from the way people talk about summer and its perception in television and media, millions of Americans every year--and especially this year--find that the season is much more of a downer than they’re taught to expect.
For that reason, unhappiness during the summer months can feel wrong and you may even harbor some degree of guilt. “I’m supposed to feel happy,” and “Everyone else is experiencing joy” are common thoughts to have, especially during the summer months, but happiness as an obligation is much less attainable than happiness as an opportunity.
Embracing How You Feel
For many people, their summertime unhappiness has a clinical name: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Although the condition is typically associated with winter and its short, cold days, approximately 10% of cases occur during the summer months. Oppressive heat and humidity, lack of routine--especially if there are kids at home--and social pressure to host and attend events compound stress and can result in feeling down, or even seasonally depressed.
This summer in particular you may be feeling anxious about the health and safety of your family, the state of the country, or any number of big, unprecedented stressors. It doesn’t help that due to social distancing we’re getting by without much of the social structure and amenities that we’ve come to rely on.
If you are experiencing unhappiness or anxiety, the first and best thing you can do for yourself is let go of the obligation to be happy. Embrace the truth of what you’re feeling, and recognize that you’re not supposed to feel any way other than how you feel right now. External forces--people, pets, seasons--can’t require you to experience any set of emotions. You need to build your own emotional house, and that begins by being truthful with yourself about where you currently are, and accepting that place without shame.
Building Happiness Your Own Way
What do you love about summer? Forget about what you’re supposed to love, and what everyone else loves, and focus on you. What is it that you look forward to in summer? (My answer: listening to my kids playing outside, reading under the shade of a tree and cozying up during a thunderstorm.)
Can you create the circumstances for the things that you enjoy to happen? I can’t summon a thunderstorm, but if I know one is coming I can prepare to be cozy. If you love late-night cocktails with friends, initiate a socially distant hangout with friends over video or in someone’s yard. If you love watching your plants grow, set aside time to work in the garden. I know it can be hard to take action when feeling depressed, but try to choose just one positive thing and make it happen. The next time will be easier.
If you’re having trouble thinking of anything, here are some ideas. You could try establishing a gratitude practice or reading that inspirational book your friend recommended to you 8 months ago whose title you forget (she’ll appreciate you reaching out to ask). If you don’t have that friend, try The Happiness Project; it’s my personal favorite. Volunteer your time for your favorite cause: focusing on others can be a powerful mood booster. And turn off social media. It’s helpful to recognize that the perfect summers portrayed on Instagram and Facebook are not real. Everyone has ups and downs!
Want to come at this from the other side? Think about what stresses you out about summer, and brainstorm ways to avoid those stressors. Are too many social engagements lining up already? Know that there is always a graceful way to refuse. Heat has you cooped up in the A/C? Take advantage of the cooler air in the morning and evening to go for a walk. Exercise and time outside can both be uplifting for the spirit.
Lean on Others
Remember your supports: the family, friends, and pets who love you and want you to feel like your best self. Recognize that it is natural and normal to feel down sometimes, and that you have the power to change inside of you, even if that change comes in baby steps. And don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help if you feel like you need it.
Best of luck finding joy this summer!
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