Summertime Sadness, Happiness, and Everything in Between
And just like that, it's September. Starbucks has started pushing their pumpkin well, everything. Duane Reade has started filling their shelves with Halloween candy. Everyone is rushing to wear their new fall clothes. I always have a profound sadness at the end of summer. I take after my mother in that respect (and almost every other), who won't close the pool until late September, weeks after it's too cold to swim.
Summer is full of such freedom. There's a collective push for relaxation and endlessly long days and warm nights make time slow down just a bit. This summer has been a rollercoaster for me. It started in Portugal on the beach and ended in a similar way but a little less exotic by the pool at home in Philadelphia. In between however was full of great moments, difficult bumps, and everything in between.
This summer, I learned a lot about myself--what I need, how I want to help and support others, and just as important, how I want to help and support myself. I love this blog, because it's been a great outlet to let me reflect on my experiences. I've distilled what I've learned this summer into five important lessons, I hope can be useful for you as well!
The Top 5 Lessons I Learned This Summer
1. Take Joy From The Simple Things
Most summers are full of trips, tanning (or in my case, burning), and relaxation. This summer was like a wildfire I barely saw before the anxious heat was surrounding me. My schedule has been full from morning till I go to bed and the rapid pace has me barely processing my days. I understood about midway through summer I needed to figure out how to escape the churn.
I began focusing on the simple things that bring me joy-really drawing them out, noticing the details, and appreciating them. Coming home from work and taking a few moments to watch the sunset. Making a steaming hot mug of tea and talking to Nick about his day. Focusing on the way my feet hit the ground as I meander through the Farmer's Market. Even noticing the feel of my favorite fuzzy blanket on my hand. Each brings a smile, a breath, and takes me out of the hustle. That simplicity allows me to unwind.
2. Recognize Persistent Thought Loops
I've always been a confident person. Recently though, I've struggled a lot with "I'm not good enough." or "I can't do this." I actually went to a therapist because it was causing me so much anxiety. She explained how these thoughts can negatively influence behaviors which lead to negative feelings which leads to more damaging thoughts in an endless loop. So "I can't do this" on a certain task means I avoid it at all costs, or I can't focus on it because I'm thinking I can't do it, or I stop before it's completed because I don't think I'm capable. This causes anxiety, and frustration, and because I haven't learned how to master the task due to the thought and behavior, the feelings become more detrimental which feeds the entire loop eventually resulting in depression and panic attacks and an inability to do the task completely.
How do you reverse it? First, chart out what your loop is. Here's a link to get you started. Then, start by changing the thought, even if you don't believe it. When you say "I can't do this." replace it instead with "This is a challenge for me but I will overcome it." or "Take a deep breath. One foot in front of the other. This is hard but you've got it." It will sound ridiculous at first but by changing your narrative and your mental input you'll actually transform the output to be something much more positive.
*I am not a therapist and do not hold my BA in Psychology as a document that gives me any right to provide psychological treatment. This is helpful for me but I highly recommend seeing a therapist to see what's best for you. Therapy is expensive but there's more cost efficient virtual options like Talkspace and Better Help that are good options if you can't spend a ton.
3. Take Time To Evaluate (And Support!) Your Support System
I have the most incredible support system. This summer, I leaned on them a lot and it wasn't until the end of the summer I realized the extent that your support system is codependent on you. The people we choose to spend time with effect our energy and mood.
I called my parents one Saturday morning after my dad had missed our standing 10AM call to find out they had gone to the beach for the weekend. My mom explained that she was bogged down between the personal from my grandma's surgery to her own health issues and the national with news that seems to be worsening by the day. Her support system had depleted her energy and crushed her mood and she needed to recharge. She smartly recognized this, and did something about it. I realized I had been contributing to this as well, leaning heavily on her for support throughout the summer. She needed to take time to refresh and I vowed to make sure I was supporting her as well.
During this time I also realized that my friends going through similar experiences to me were feeding off each other, circling around similar anxieties with the same crazed energy.
I talked to my support system. We reset. If we're feeding off each other, we need to be positive and realize the majority of our issues aren't so big. Take time to laugh, to support, and to not take everything so seriously. Regularly evaluating the mental health of your support system as well as how you're feeding into that health is crucial.
And a tangent- shout out to those who surround themselves with people who don't necessarily have the same views. By surrounding yourself with diverse viewpoints, you no longer have a group that is reinforcing your views but challenging them, and that (when done respectfully), makes everyone more open minded and aware.
4. Nature is Necessary
Stay grounded. Literally. I didn't realize what a positive effect nature had on me until I moved to NYC where skyscrapers replace 100 year old oaks and flowers are housed in corner bodegas instead of mulch covered gardens. New York is amazing, but it also makes its inhabitants removed from the trees and grass and earth that grounds us.
It's not just talk--"forest bathing", a Japanese practice of becoming immersed in nature by essentially wandering in the outdoors has been scientifically proven to boost immunity and improve mood. "Grounding" or "Earthing" is the literal practice of being barefoot on the ground to reconnect and recalibrate with the earth's electromagnetic field. Sounds like some hippie bullshit right? Scientific studies published in NCBI have confirmed the benefits from reducing inflammation to helping sleep to shifts from the ANS to the PNS. From outdoor meditations to Nordic "forest schools" to trends from makeup to food stressing a return to nature, the benefits of getting outdoors are undeniable. But, you don't have to be in a meditative state to feel the effects.
I love this picture. Nick, playing with my dogs in the backyard barefoot. I feel like often when people say to go out in nature, it feels like you have to sit quietly for hours in a forest. Being in nature can be active, fun, and doesn't require you to drive hundreds of miles to a remote forest. It's simply spending a little more time in your yard (or nearest park for city dwellers).
5. Perspective, Perspective Perspective
These are my grandparents at their 90th birthday party. Don't they look absolutely amazing? My grandpa had just had an accident. My grandma was having terrible stomach issues and a few weeks later would lose her big toe to an infection. Whenever I'm feeling particularly lost or like I need to be grounded, my weekly conversations with my grandparents usually do the trick. I feel lucky to still have them and that they're so involved in my life.
Both of them love to tell stories. Not of how many hours they worked or how difficult a particular time in their lives were. They talk about their family, their friends, the times they messed up and failed and how sweet their success was because of this not in spite of it.
They say how lucky they are to have the lives they do and they say how grateful they are to have a family they are so proud of. They laugh and they talk about the good old days. They offer their advice and always make me feel like everything will be okay even if I can't see that that's true quite yet. Don't get me wrong, they bicker and kvetch, they bemoan and belabor. They often drive us crazy. But that's what you do when you're 90--and they have earned the right to do so. This is well balanced though with their amazing perspective and I feel like every time I speak with them they inadvertently remind me what's important in life.
They always linger on "I love you." adding extra emphasis on the "love" every time I speak to them, knowing how important those words are and reminding me, even if they're not aware, of how important that little word is to bring to every aspect of my life.
So that's it! Five lessons learned over a summer that was equal parts incredible and challenging. Anything lessons learned this summer you want to share? Let me know in the comments!