10 Tools to Overcoming the Summer Blues
10 Tools to Overcome the Summer Blues
Having the blues in the summer is difficult because those who are struggling feel like they are the only ones suffering while others are having the time of their lives. Depressive symptoms are already isolating and having a case of the summer blues when everyone else seems to be joyfully vacationing and barbecuing can feel extra isolating.
What are we talking about when we say, “the blues”? We are talking about dysthymic or depressive symptoms and malaise. Symptoms can include feelings of low energy, frequently feeling cranky or irritable, decreased motivation, increased anxiety, more guilt and less confidence, feeling heavy most of the time, and sometimes experiencing changes in sleep and appetite.
For those of you having a case of the summer blues, the below 10 tools will help you immensely. And for those of you who are feeling good, the tools in this blog article can help you prevent the blues or will help you the next time you feel down (and we all do from time to time!).
1. Listen to your emotions. Many of us live in fear of our emotions, but our emotions are merely ourselves talking to ourselves. If you are in a serious relationship and your significant other tells you what they need, best practice is to listen. Our emotions are similar. When we feel down, that can be our inner-self saying “I need to grieve a loss,” “my feelings are being hurt,” “I am working too hard and feel isolated,” “I am playing an unhealthy role in this relationship,” etc. Are your dysthymic feelings trying to tell you something? Try journaling or talking about your emotions and experiences with a trusted friend, and then address what you are needing (e.g., take time to grieve, make time for friends, etc.).
2. Make sure you are well connected to safe others. Relationship is the human habitat. We are born needing each other, and this need for others never changes. If you are in doubt, consider the impact of solitary confinement on humans! Research shows that we need caring physical touch several times a day and, we also need high levels of encouragement juxtaposed to criticism. As children, we need a primary attachment relationship with a parent and as adults we thrive when we have secure, safe relationships, whether friendships or a romantic relationship. Make sure you are taking time with safe others who are caring, consistent, forgiving, self-aware, and communicate well.
3. Incorporate more fun into your life. When was the last time you had fun? Depressive feelings tell us that we want to stay home, over work, escape via substances, or avoid activities because we are too tired or because they will not be fun. But, depressive feelings lie! Sometimes we might need to rest more, but we also need to create fun. Make a list of 10 activities that, in the past, you have had fun engaging in. Then brainstorm 10 more ideas that might bring more fun and laughter into your life (e.g., watch funny animal videos, go to a carnival or festival, plant flowers, go get ice cream, camp with a buddy, rent a convertible for a weekend, go thrifting, hike, read a funny book, play basketball, etc.). Schedule fun into every day!
4. Eliminate and reduce joy sucking behaviors and increase life giving activities. At least once a month, we should inventory what we have been saying “yes” to and what we have been saying “no” to! Some activities give us energy and others drain our energy. I realize that there are some activities that must get done, like taking the trash out. Beyond chores that need to be done, what energy drainers can you prune out of your life? And what energy-giving activities can you engage in more? For example, perhaps you signed up for the PTA out of guilt because your friends were all doing it, but you would like to spend that time swimming laps or going out to eat with a dear friend instead.
5. Think about your thinking! Medical and psychological research are very clear on the power of our thoughts to shape our moods and experiences. We know that the placebo effect for pharmaceuticals is 15-72%. That mean in 15% to 72% of studies, the mind can make the body feel relief from painful symptoms after taking a sugar pill! Similarly, research on cognitive behavioral therapy has shown that reducing all or nothing and pessimistic thinking and increasing more optimistic (yet realistic) thinking decreases depressive symptoms and improves quality of life. In addition, mindfulness therapies, which focus on slowing down the racing mind to be present and aware in the moment with curiosity, have also been shown to be effective in reducing depression and anxiety. Where do you need to change your thinking to align more with peaceful, joyful, helpful thoughts?
6. Make sure your life is balanced. We might try to deny it, but our bodies were made to have a certain amount of food, sleep, and hydration. Similarly, we need to work, and we need to play. We need alone time and we need to be deeply connected to others. We need to move our bodies (exercise) and we need to have times of rest. We need an organized home and work life. We need time with our family and time with friends. We need to invest in our closest relationships and keep them growing.
Take a moment and really think through your life. Assess your sleep and nourishment patterns, you work and play habits, and every area of your life. Sometimes it can be helpful to make a pie chart with each piece of pie representing how much time you devote to various activities. Are you living from your values or have the pressures of life moved your boundary lines so that you are over-giving to certain areas and under-giving to others? What shifts do you need to make?
7. Reduce stress. When we say stress, we usually refer to a situation that is causing us to become dysregulated in our nervous system, so that we are too stuck “on” or get to a place where after being “stuck on” we shift to feeling numb, flat, or “stuck off.” We can work on reducing stress in our internal world through employing physiological relaxation techniques (e.g., deep breathing, mindful stretching, progressive relaxation); by changing our thinking (e.g., thinking more calming and self-support thoughts); and/or, engaging in calming behaviors (e.g., listen to music, going for a hike, taking a bath). We can also reduce stress in our external world (e.g., organizing our room or home; getting a less demanding job; setting boundaries with how much we work or volunteer).
8. Radically accept what you cannot change. Life brings us both the good and the difficult. When we were younger, we sometimes had a more ideal view of what life would be. Although we should fight against injustice in society, we also are required by life, to accept the actions of others and the things that we cannot control. Fighting against certain circumstances will only hurt us, for example, a loved one who is determined to leave us; a parent who is dying, or that we must work to pay our bills. There are times to fight for something better than we are experiencing, but there are also times to let go and accept what is happening. Are you fighting something you need to accept? Perhaps it is time to accept a circumstance with radical intention!
9. Forgive More. Research shows us that forgiveness is good for the soul (and for our health)! Forgiveness usually does not start out as a feeling but a choice, that then turns into a feeling of peace. Anger is a natural feeling, and when we are wronged, it is natural and right to work through some anger. Unforgiveness goes beyond anger to holding onto a grudge, and to desiring that bad outcomes occur for the other person. Unforgiveness is like expecting someone else to be harmed by our own daily ingestion of poison. Resentment is not healthy; studies show that resentment leads to depressive and PTSD symptoms as well as physical disease. Forgiveness does not have to mean trusting a person again, but it does mean choosing to extend compassion and empathy in your own mind to the other person.
In addition, studies show that feeling unforgiven ourselves can lead to depression, so it is also important to forgive ourselves. When you are not forgiving yourself, you walk around with a 24/7 war going on within you. This is exhausting and will lead to depression. Forgive yourself today for anything you are holding over you.
10. Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships. We are created to connect, and we are also created to have individual likes, dislikes, and preferences. We are also created to have a natural desire to push away from inappropriate or abusive behavior by others (unless trauma has interfered with that instinct). With such a primal need to connect paired with a primal need to be an individual, we are going to have some sort of disagreement with others. Therefore, we need to learn to say “no thank you” in a way that is clear, but also facilitates the maintenance of healthy relationships. Finding/using your voice in relationships is important, just as important at hearing others’ voices. Do you need to show up for yourself more in your relationships? Or is fear driving you to hide how you really feel and keeping you from asking for what you really want? Maybe it is time to make some adjustments by sharing your needs and wants and setting healthy boundaries regarding what you will and will not accept from others? We cannot control others, but we can determine to what we will or will not allow ourselves to be exposed.
If you apply these 10 tools, you will feel better. An important factor to remember is that the development and strengthening of neural pathways (i.e., neurogenesis) that positively impact improved mood can take time, so you have to keep applying these strategies in order to produce the joy you are seeking.
In addition, skilled professional help is often needed to overcome depressive symptoms. At Greenleaf, we care, and we have the skills to help. Is it time for you to turn to Greenleaf? Call or email us today!