It’s Officially the First Day of Summer…
The season of fun, freedom, and carefree living. The countdown to summer begins as soon as we ring in the new year, anticipation building until the final bell of the school year. Beach trips and pool days promise a sparkly highlight reel to share with friends in the fall.
For some teens, summer is not the most anticipated season of the year, with the sting of loneliness and depression lurking in the shadow of summer fun. The melancholy of depression is pronounced next to the pressure to have spectacular summer.
Depression seems to get more attention in winter months when decreased sunlight exposure contributes to Seasonal Affective Disorder. With lots of opportunities to soak up rays of sunlight over the summer, we do not think of summer as a gloomy time, especially for teens who are free from school.
For teens who are at risk for depressive episodes, some aspects of summer living–mainly more time alone and an open-ended schedule–can be triggers for depressed mood.
A loop of painful thoughts is a common experience reported during depressive episodes. These thoughts can be connected to not being good enough, loneliness, and guilt. Being alone with thoughts for an extended period of time can turn up the volume on their intensity.
Some teens dread the increased downtime with their thoughts that summer brings. Worry can build throughout the summer about starting a new school or grade level. Some ruminate about where they stand with friends they cannot see on a regular basis.
“During the summer, camps, volunteering, a consistent summer job, or a driver’s license can serve as protective factors for teens prone to getting stuck.”
For others, summer is a time when insecurity and shame about the body is heightened by the expectation to show more skin.
In the perceived endlessness of summer, emotional distress can expand to fill the space left by the school year. The physical symptoms of depression–like low energy, sleepiness, and difficulty concentrating–can make it harder to get the day started and stay involved in meaningful activities that can lift mood.
This experience is distinct from normal summer boredom every teen encounters. If you think you or your teen may be depressed, learn more about identifying the signs and symptoms, and knowing when to seek help from the American Psychological Association.
Daily structure, regular exercise, purposeful activity, consistent sleep patterns, and time with friends can provide a break from thoughts, lessen their intensity, and help to offset some of the physical effects of depression.
In the school year, the school schedule provides built-in reasons to stay active, go to bed and wake up at the same time, hang out with friends, and get the day started. Teens who participate in sports and clubs find meaning in building skills and working on something they are passionate about throughout the school year.
During the summer, camps, volunteering, a consistent summer job, or a driver’s license can serve as protective factors for teens prone to getting stuck. Parents can help by creating a summer schedule and maintaining consistent sleep patterns in the home. The following may also help make summer a more hopeful season:
Reality-Test Social Media:
Social media can make it seem that everyone is at the pool, beach, and hanging out with friends all summer long. I am guilty of posting vacation pictures weeks after trips have ended when I’m sitting in my office writing. Realistically, most teens do not have a picture-perfect summer every day.
“Track the moments of your summer you are thankful for.”
Expectations for summer fun and the perception that everyone is having a good time can make slow, lonely days harder. Instead of looking through a friend of a friend’s Instagram feed (also guilty), try starting a gratitude journal. Gratitude celebrates our everyday experiences, like seeing a beautiful sunflower on a walk or getting to talk with a good friend.
A daily practice of noticing what brings meaning to each day can fight against the mind’s tendency to focus on the negative. Track the moments of your summer you are thankful for. When another filtered picture pops up on your phone, flip through your gratitude list.
Commit to Being Active Every Day
Whether it’s a walk around the block or a game of basketball, physical activity increases the production of hormones that lift our moods. Make the most out of physical activity by planning your activity of choice the night before, as motivation to get up and get the day started.
Even if the rest of your day is low key, the positive lift from moving lingers throughout the day. If you do not like exercising in the morning, consider planning something else to start your day like driving to the nearest coffee shop. Summer days may be less structured, but a morning motivator can add a sense of purpose to the day.
Create an Outlet for Emotional Expression and Creativity
Over the summer, teens can miss the activity of working towards a goal and building new skills through sports and clubs. Finding a new skill to learn this summer can be an outlet for creativity, emotional expression, and a pathway for building confidence.
“A simple change from the norm engages the brain and can make an ordinary day seem unique.”
If you want to teach yourself how to play the guitar or refine your comedy skills, define small, measurable steps you can take each week to move you closer towards that goal.
By the end of the summer, you may find that time passes quickly when you are immersed in something you enjoy. If it seems that you no longer enjoy the interests and activities you once did, this could be a sign to reach out to someone you trust for help.
Practice Being Alone
Learning to be alone is an odd, but useful skill to refine throughout life. Reframe time alone as an opportunity to learn more about yourself. Tune in to what you like, without the influence of friends. Maybe there’s a show you want to watch that no one else likes to watch with you. Binge away!
When no one is around to hang out or talk through a problem, write about thoughts and feelings in a journal for emotional release. Find a good spot outside for thinking and observing the natural world. Over time, downtime alone can become a more comfortable experience.
Build New Experiences into Your Day
This can be a simple as finding a new song you like each day or ordering something else at Chick-fil-a besides a #1. A simple change from the norm engages the brain and can make an ordinary day seem unique.
Creating a coping plan for depression is a unique process for each individual. If you are looking for more support in this process, or if depressed mood persists or gets worse as summer continues, talk to an adult you trust about getting help.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.