With packed schedules, less sleep and more pressure to be fun, social, and happy —regardless of how we actually feel — summertime can be deceptively stressful. Here, experts share easy ways to turn that tension into a season of bliss!
You wake up to greet a beautiful day. The sun is shining and the birds are singing — so why do you feel a vague yet palpable worry stirring inside you? According to psychologists, “summer stress” is a very real phenomenon, caused in part by more obligations and less sleep this time of year. And many of us no doubt feel added pressure to make up for lost time from last summer’s lockdown.
“We know that men and women respond to seasonal depression differently, with summertime stress hitting women the hardest,” reveals neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., of Columbia University. Just as the days grow longer this time of year, so do women’s lists of responsibilities, personally and professionally. And with that also comes more guilt. “We’re harder on ourselves, in spite of carrying the lion’s share of many burdens.”
This anxiety doesn’t exclusively stem from bona fide busyness: The invisible expectation to be happier in the summer can trigger depression when we feel like we’re falling short compared to our neighbors. Social media, in fact, only exacerbates our insecurities, as we compare our reality to someone else’s “highlight reel.”
Thankfully, our happiness can go up along with the temperature. Just read on to discover common summer stressors and their simple solutions, so the season recharges your battery, melts stress and soothes your soul.
Comparing? Jump straight to the ‘win’.
While surfing social media, you feel a surge of envy as you look at a snapshot of a friend on a sailboat in a picture-perfect locale. Research shows that exposure to social media delivers only a fleeting mood boost before it quickly fades, leaving us feeling even worse than before, as we begin to compare ourselves to those around us.
When that twinge of envy arises, ask yourself what can give you joy right now. We’re conditioned to think about happiness in a “have-do-be” sequence. For example, once I have more money, I can take vacations, and finally be relaxed. But it’s much healthier to cut out the middleman and proceed straight to the “be” part, says wellness coach Rebecca Cafiero, author of Becoming You. “If what you really want is to feel relaxed, set that as your mental GPS coordinate by asking yourself, How can I have that feeling today?” That could mean anything from taking a walk to getting ice cream with your grandkids. “The way you want to feel is the end goal, and you can get there faster if you listen to what envy is telling you about your life rather than focusing on others.”
Overwhelmed? Engage all your senses.
As you host the first family barbecue in what feels like forever, you can’t help but worry if everyone is having a great time. It’s common for women to feel like they’re responsible for everyone else’s happiness, which can be overwhelming, observes Jenny Yip, Psy.D., founder of the Renewed Freedom Center.
If you’re caught in an anxiety spiral, ground yourself using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique: Look around and notice five things you can see, four things you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell and one you can taste. For example, consider the sound of birds chirping; the sensation of grass between your toes; the fragrance of roses in your garden and the taste of lemonade. This instant sensory input short-circuits worried thoughts. “It’s impossible to savor this stimuli and still think about what’s making you anxious,” says psychologist Charmain Jackman, Ph.D. “It instantly calms you, bringing you into the present moment.”
Feeling insecure? Try an exposure exercise.
Your neighbors invited you to swim in their pool, but you’re worried about wearing a swimsuit after gaining 20 pounds over the past few months. “We tend to magnify our flaws and minimize our value,” says Yip. This self-consciousness is even more acute, because we’ve been out of most social situations for so long, causing a “spotlight effect” that makes us think others are judging us when they’re not.
To increase your confidence, briefly imagine or jot down a scenario you’re afraid of facing. For example, “When I take off my sarong, people will stare at the stretch marks on my thighs.” This type of “exposure therapy” creates a safe space for you to face your fear, explains Yip. Simply envisioning the worst-case scenario lets you see that you can handle it, boosting your resilience. In fact, participants in one study experienced an incredible 90 percent reduction in their fear and anxiety after just one such exposure exercise. This simple visualization essentially lets your mind build up “immunity” to stressors, allowing you to respond more calmly and confidently in the future.
Fear of missing out? Choose ‘JOMO’ instead.
Every weekend for the past month has been over-scheduled with social events. The pressure to say “yes” is wearing on you, but at the same time, you don’t want to miss out on any of the fun after being cooped up for so long last year. You’re not alone: Studies show 40 percent of us report feeling the fear of missing out (or FOMO) during the summer, a feeling that’s only heightened because we are able to get together again.
Simply swap FOMO for JOMO, or the “joy of missing out.” “Taking an opposite action is part of a mindfulness strategy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), proven to help defuse negative thinking and end emotional dwelling,” explains Jackman. For example, when you feel regret, switch to gratitude by telling yourself, If I hadn’t skipped that event, I never would have discovered that beautiful walking path. By swapping perspectives, you’re reminding yourself just how much control you have in your life.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.