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Summer Awakening: Top Five Tips for the Season

Make the most of your summer.

Summer is a time that many of us look forward to: students have extended time off, families are planning vacations, and the sunny days and long nights seem endless in their possibilities. Even as a full-time professor, I find myself in the enviable position of having more time off than any other time of year. The possibility of accomplishing everything—or nothing—can become a reality this summer, depending on how that precious time is spent.

To help jumpstart the coming season, here are my Top Five tips for how to make the most of this summer, regardless of whether or not your profession enables you more time outside the office. Indeed, the warm weather, vacation possibilities and general excitement that oftentimes accompany this time of year offer boundless opportunities.

1. Reconnect with Nature. Oftentimes, people lead healthier lives during the summer months. Pools are open, neglected gym memberships may be replaced with outdoor activities, and seasonal fruits and vegetables may offer a reprieve from less healthy nutritional options that run rampant during other months. Make the most of the weather and the opportunities for outdoor activities, be it going for a longer walk than usual or more generally in seeking out activities that are outside, such as outdoor concerts, movie screenings, flea markets, etc. It isn’t just pleasure that is to be gained from these activities: research suggests that connecting with nature may in fact boost our immune system. As reported several years ago in The New York Times:

“In a series of studies, scientists found that when people swap their concrete confines for a few hours in more natural surroundings—forests, parks and other places with plenty of trees—they experience increased immune function.” (Parker-Pope, 2010, Para 1)

In our increasingly digital culture, so many of us are multi-tasking and connected to our screens that we may be less inclined to seek the outdoors as we used to be (Vitamin D deficiencies, anyone?). In fact, much of the brain research confirms that connecting with nature may be vital to helping our brains properly process the constant influx of stimuli we are exposed to. So don’t just do it for the joys of the sun, give your brain and immune system a boost, too.

2. Summer Reading. It is the summer of blockbusters at the box office, but in your rush to seek out the latest superhero flick, don't neglect the bestsellers that may be piling up on your bedside table (or accumulating on your e-reader). Oftentimes the more busy we feel in both our professional and personal lives, the more willing we may be to neglect the simple pleasures that come from activities we can enjoy alone, such as getting immersed in a great read. I’m not talking about a book or article you may be reading for school or work, or scanning the newspapers or Twitter for the latest headline, as informative as those brushes with reading may be. I am talking about really sitting down, in the quiet, with your complete focus on a given story.

I’m not going to start rattling the shocking statistics about how little our students are reading these days (that would take up an article of its own). No, for the moment I am going to pick more generally on adults. Apparently, some polls reveal that one in four of us haven’t read a single book all year, and the average adult is only reading about four books per year (Isaac, 2007). What is to gain from reading a book? Well in addition to the obvious benefits of reading such as improving memory, focus, brain activity, vocabulary and other basic skills, reading can be the ultimate pleasurable experience. In fact, studies also find that readers score higher on empathy, a clear indicator of how reading enables the cultivation of greater emotional intelligence.

3. Vacation. Whether you are afforded a long break or a long weekend, take the opportunity this summer to give yourself a mental reprieve from your professional life in whatever capacity you are able to. Whether it is a vacation that has been planned for months, or even a “staycation” where you have time off but are planning on staying local, summer is a great time for some kind of excursion or trip. According to some polls, not only are a lot of workers not even taking their vacation days, many workers never take them during the year (Scott, 2011). In fact, even when we do take official time off from work to vacation, oftentimes our technology keeps our minds occupied with work even when our physical destination has changed. I have a rule that when I vacation, I really vacation. I go off the grid and don’t check my work emails and/or update any of my social networking profiles. In fact, taking a break from technology is a vacation in and of itself. The benefits of taking time off from work are well documented, and include staving off burn-out on the job, boosting creativity, boosting immunity and improving one’s overall well-being (Scott, 2011).

4. Be spontaneous. Not all of our days can or should be planned, and it is quite possible that opportunities will arise this summer that you may not anticipate. Should you take a day off from work to go to the beach with a friend? What if you are having a good time on your vacation and you want to extend it a couple of days? If you come across an article in the local paper about a museum exhibition, why not go straight from work and ditch your long-standing evening appointment with your DVR (isn't summer the time for reruns on television anyways?). Embrace the unknown, and be ready for whatever whim may strike you (within reason). After all, even though it may seem endless, this summer will eventually fade away, as all seasons do.

5. Be in the Moment. Like all good things, this summer will eventually come to an end. The vacation you have been anticipating all year, the months off from school you have been looking forward to, it will pass by quicker than perhaps you can imagine. Having said that, this underscores the importance of embracing every moment of the summer, and being present for each moment, rather than dreading when it will come to an end. So however you plan on spending these summer months, fully embrace each moment and make the most of it.

Lastly, one final word of advice, since you never know where these next summer months will take you: pack an extra tube of SPF, just in case…

Isaac, Brad (2007). The 26 Major Advantages to Reading More Books and Why 3 in 4 People are Being Shut out of Success. Persistence Unlimited. Retrieved on May 14, 2012, from

Parker-Pope, Tara (2007). The Health Benefits of Nature. The New York Times. Retrieved on May 14, 2012 from

Scott, Elizabeth (2011). The Importance of Vacations, for Stress Relief, Productivity, and Health. Stress Management. Retrieved on May 14, 2012, from

Copyright 2012 Azadeh Aalai

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