By Mental Health First Aid USA on June 21, 2022 (modified)
After what feels like an eternity of stay-at-home orders and roped off public spaces, a somewhat “normal” summer is a welcome treat. Longer and warmer days, a more flexible work schedule (or even summer break) and an abundance of social activities make this season a favorite for many. However, the expectation of being carefree and making each day Instagram-worthy can put a lot of pressure on people and, unchecked, can even negatively impact their mental wellbeing.
Summer weather can wear our bodies down physically, as extended periods in heat can cause sleeplessness, lethargy, lack of appetite and dehydration, all of which can lead to aggressive behaviors and anxiety. In fact, a study by the American Physiological Society found that people are more likely to have higher levels of stress hormones in the summer than in winter. That’s why it’s important to take a proactive approach to maintain your mental wellbeing this summer.
The Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum identifies eight dimensions of wellbeing, including emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social and spiritual. Here are a few tips on how you can tend to every aspect of your mental wellbeing as the weather warms up:
1. Emotional – One way you can tend to your emotional wellbeing is by practicing coping skills and self-care. This summer, that may look like working on expressing your feelings to the people close to you, taking a break to practice deep breathing in a park, setting healthy boundaries so as not to over-commit yourself, journaling or developing a hobby (the warmer weather is perfect for trying fun outdoor activities like roller skating or kite flying).
2. Environmental – Safe environments (both physically and emotionally) lead to environmental wellbeing. Be thoughtful about the spaces you choose to spend your time in. Are you being exposed to abuse or trauma? Are the people around you engaging in substance use that makes you uncomfortable? Is there an accessible place that makes you feel secure and happy you can go to instead?
3. Financial – Financial wellness comes with experiencing satisfaction with current and future financial situations. While it can be tempting to splurge on vacations, eating out, concerts and countless other expenses during the summer, if you’re prone to experiencing financial stress, make a point to stick to a budget. You can even determine a certain amount of money you’re comfortable using as “summer fun” money to keep anxiety at bay.
4. Intellectual – For school-aged individuals, summer often means a long-awaited break from the classroom. To help maintain your child’s (and/or your own) intellectual wellbeing, find ways to expand their knowledge and skills through intellectually stimulating activities. Try taking a trip to the zoo, aquarium or a museum. You could also have your child identify one project they want to accomplish in the summer (e.g., learning to play a song on the piano or guitar or creating a book of original photography) and then create a plan together to hold them accountable.
5. Occupational – Occupational wellbeing doesn’t only come from having a career. People often find occupational wellbeing through volunteering, caregiving, contributing to the community and other activities that provide a meaning and purpose to life. Need inspiration? Here are some summer volunteering ideas from AARP.
6. Physical – Exercise is as good for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy. It’s important to choose a form of exercise that you enjoy, and it doesn’t have to be intense to “count.” You can take a walk, do 20 jumping jacks to shake yourself out of a rut or try out surfing at the closest beach. Sleep also has a huge impact on our mental wellbeing, and studies show we tend to sleep less in the summer. If the extended daylight hours make it hard for you to shut your brain off, consider investing in blackout curtains or commit to a consistent bedtime routine that feels good to you.
7. Social – Developing a sense of connection, belonging and a well-developed support system can help you feel socially well. Summertime can provide lots of opportunities for making new, meaningful connections. To do this, the National Institutes of Health recommends joining a group focused on a favorite hobby like hiking or reading, volunteering or participating in neighborhood events like a park cleanup through your local recreation center. This summer could be a great time to safely reconnect with friends and family and enjoy quality time together.
8. Spiritual – Attending to your sense of purpose and finding meaning in life leads to spiritual wellbeing, and it doesn’t necessarily need to come from a religious belief system. One way to try improving your spiritual wellbeing this summer is by giving selflessly. Studies show that any selfless act for others is connected to lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem, less stress and even a longer life. Other tips include focusing on living in the present moment, which helps mitigate anxiety, and practicing gratitude for what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have or wish you had. Taking time to acknowledge what you’re grateful for can increase your happiness, life satisfaction and overall health while decreasing negative emotions like anxiety, depression and anger.
While the start of summer comes with a unique set of challenges and stressors, we can continue to make a difference for ourselves and our loved ones by taking a proactive approach to maintaining our mental wellbeing. With these tips from MHFA, we wish you a happy, healthy summer!