Do You Get the Summer Blahs?
How to handle the seasonal stress
Posted Jun 29, 2016
The summer vacation season can be a very difficult time of the year for those who have major depression or bipolar depression. The sun is welcoming, the weather is good, and other people are out and about, or so it seems. There is a lot of pressure for you to be in a good mood. A person is not “supposed” to be down at this time of year – it’s summertime! It may appear to you as though everyone else is off on a wonderful vacation trip or at least doing something fun, at the beach or the mountains or an exotic locale. In your mind they are relaxed, having a great time enjoying themselves and their friends and families. Smiling faces. Picnics. A free, easy time.
Yet all you might be able to see are the empty streets in your hometown and wonder where all the people have gone. You see a group of bicyclists ride by and wonder how you can muster the energy to get off of the couch, never mind a long and vigorous bike trip. Perhaps your co-workers or neighbors come back with what are actually glossed-over, inflated stories of their time off. If you believe them, it makes you feel bad and left out, unable to participate in the supposed pleasures of life. The summertime may also make you feel more alone than usual, especially if you do not have plans with friends or family. This sets up a vicious cycle of staying at home and isolated, which is not healthy.
But wait! Try to remember that you are viewing this through a negatively distorted, depressed lens which is your illness. Not everyone has plans to go away on a vacation trip just because it is July. Yes, some people do go away and have a wonderful time. Some people go away, but it may not be heaven as you imagine. You do not know what family stressors accompany them on their trip, what difficulties they may have. You are not aware of their family arguments, cranky children, financial disagreements, differences on how to spend their time, or other illnesses they may have. And not everyone can afford to go away or has the good health to do so. Some might have to undergo chemotherapy in the summer, some might be on crutches this year or attending to an elderly parent – you never know. Or maybe you do go away and find that it is not enjoyable for some reason. Travel goes awry, the weather is funky, people do not meet your expectations, the destination is not as you imagined, or you seem to be unable to relax and leave your troubles behind. Depression in the summer may make you feel as if you are the only one without good vacation fun, but the reality is that you are not alone in this.
The more important point is how you choose to respond to this time of year, what you do with yourself and your free time. Summer does come around every year, and that means you can plan in advance for something to do with your time off. It does not have to be a big thing – perhaps a day trip or a long weekend visiting friends or family might be enough to change your mental scenery. But it requires planning in advance, and I know for a fact that is not easy to do when depressed. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
First, pick something to do that is simple and that brings you pleasure, not stress. Perhaps you have a favorite friend or relative to visit, a favorite hobby to pursue, or you want to learn something new like kayaking or hiking or watercolor painting. Aim for what brings you relaxation and will refresh you. Be fair to yourself and set your expectations to have an overall pleasant time – it does not have to be perfect or a top-of-the-world experience. Try not to make comparisons with how others spend their time off. Things are never as they appear. Once your plans are made, follow through and stick to them even if you do not feel up to it. When the time comes, do not let yourself off the hook by saying you are too tired or feel too down in the dumps to go. Just do it.
In between times, take advantage of the nice weather and do something good for yourself. Go outside and take a walk around your block or in a local park. Pay attention to the fragrances of freshly mowed grass, flowers blooming, the sounds of birds chirping and children playing outdoors. Bring some of that into your home by opening the windows and curtains, letting in light, and perhaps placing some fresh flowers on your table. You might even think of a window-box, patio or backyard garden to attend to.
Keep up with the Basics of Mental Health – regular sleep, healthy diet and nutrition, daily physical exercise, keeping a regular daily structure and schedule, having social contacts and avoiding isolation. The summer is a great time for outdoor exercise, like walking, bike riding, swimming, etc. It’s also perfect for healthy eating with the many fresh fruits and vegetables now available in the supermarkets and neighborhood farmer’s markets. And it’s a time when people do like to get together, so don’t avoid those opportunities.
Try to focus on the moment you are in and put aside the worries of past or future life events. You will be surprised that you might still have a pleasant time with others even though you are feeling depressed. Doing this for yourself will raise your spirits and give you a sense of control over your life, and in this way improve your mood.
A modified version of this blog was previously posted on my website www.susannoonanmd.com