Summertime, and the livin' ain't always easy
We look forward to summer and then when we're not as happy as everyone else seems to be, we ask ourselves, "What's wrong with me?"
The answer: Nothing. With apologies to George Gershwin, summertime isn't all it's cracked up to be for everyone.
The list of possible reasons is long. We're just coming off a pandemic school year when children's (and parents') schedules were disrupted, and now, there's no school at all. The annual rhythm of school-then-summer was broken. If you're prone to mood disorders, scheduling snafus can make you anxious.
It's also stressful figuring out what your kids and grandkids are going to do this summer. Camp? Swimming lessons? Sports? In any case, they're more underfoot and you don't want them to just watch TV all the time while you (maybe) are back at the office or still working remotely.
Then there's the weather. Some people love hot weather, but not everyone does. Depending on where you live, it can be baking hot and dry; ridiculously humid (like the Southeast); or stormy, with thunder, lightning, hail and high winds -- even hurricanes and tornadoes. The weather disrupts your plans for outdoor activities and exercise, and may even damage property.
This year, there's the additional stress of adapting to a post-pandemic summer and dealing with friends and family who may or may not have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Do you plan a vacation, go to the family reunion or attend that wedding? Sometimes, it feels easier to stay home, like we did last year.
The list can go on and on, depending on your circumstances. Maybe your parents' caregiver or the kids' babysitter is taking the summer off. Maybe you're worried about money. Maybe you don't like how you look in that bathing suit. As another song says, "Sometimes I wonder what I'm gonna do, 'cause there ain't no cure for the summertime blues."
What you may be feeling is the summertime version of Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD), which more typically hits people when the days get colder and shorter. If depression has a grip on you and you can't seem to shake it, ask your doctor whether some medication and talk therapy might help.
More likely, you're experiencing low mood and low energy brought on by some or all of the factors above. And you're not alone. There may not be a cure, but you can control how you deal with the summertime blues.
Most importantly, don't beat yourself up. Acknowledge your feelings, but you don't need to label them "good" or "bad." They're just feelings.
Can you explore why you're feeling what you're feeling? (Again, a therapist may help.) And once you identify one or more causes, can you do anything about them? You can't, for example, fix the weather, but you can add a bit of structure to your day, giving yourself tasks to accomplish while also giving yourself permission to relax with a good book and a glass of iced tea.
Speaking of iced tea, stay hydrated! As I wrote a few weeks ago, lack of hydration can have many negative effects on you, physically and mentally. Drink plenty of water, but also enjoy other beverages and water-filled seasonal foods like watermelon and strawberries. If you care for a senior member of your family, ensure they are also getting enough fluids, too. Dehydration can lead to a urinary infection, which sometimes results in dementia-like symptoms.
Keep moving! Physical activity may be harder in the summer because of the heat. Move your daily walk to early morning or late evening -- the sun will still be out! Does your Medicare Advantage plan offer Silver Sneakers? Now may be the time to activate your membership and explore gyms you can use at no additional cost to you.
Social interaction can help us feel better, too, so try not to isolate yourself indoors all day. Going for a haircut or manicure, volunteering at the food bank, visiting the library or going to a movie with a friend will do a lot for your mood. Are you back in the office? Have a "walk-and-talk" meeting outdoors, or eat lunch with a co-worker.
So much of our misery stems from thinking we're not as happy as we should be. Summer isn't all fun and games -- it's OK to say that out loud. And remember that summer will turn into fall before we know it.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). She is offering a free, 30-minute phone consultation by calling (312) 788-2640 to make an appointment.