August feels to me like the end of an all-night party. More specifically, it feels like that moment when the sun comes up and you’re suddenly overwhelmed with anxiety about how you just squandered the past few hours and confusion about what you’re going to do next. While my literal answer to that situation often involves either a diner or a pillow, the metaphorical one relating to my summertime sadness is more complicated. But, pros tell me I’m hardly alone in my stress- and nostalgia-laden response to the passing of time, and that the perfect storm of seasonal circumstances is largely to blame.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, factor that can lead to this mood disruption, is that whole ‘party’s over’ vibe. “We associate summer with fun and excitement and leisure activities and vacations, and as that starts to near an end, September often symbolizes getting back to work and the seriousness of life,” says clinical psychologist Neda Gould, PhD. “We develop anxiety because of the fear of what’s to come in that change as well as melancholy or sadness around the end of this respite we have from the regular year.”
Therapist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, likewise blames end-of-summer blues on a perceived shift from good times to, well, the slog. “Summer meant a long break from school for a lot of us, so we’re trained to see summer as a time of relaxation and partying,” she says. “The end of summer means ‘Oh, it’s time to get serious again. Free time is over and it’s time to get back to work.’”
“The end of summer means ‘Oh, it’s time to get serious again. Free time is over and it’s time to get back to work.’” —therapist Aimee Daramus, PsyD
Subscribing, even if subconsciously, to the notion that the year’s fun should be crammed into the summer months can unintentionally set outsize expectations for the season. This, Dr. Daramus says, can cause emotional fallout in August. “The end of summer can also be a time of regret for the vacation you were sure you were going to take, the books you were going to read, or that helicopter ride you promised yourself,” she says.
Plus, transitions, including season changes, can be tough in general for some and lead to feelings of sadness or anxiety, says Dr. Gould. When I mention to her that my personal summertime sadness experience usually takes shape as a feeling of loss (in the form of nostalgia), she empathizes, noting that certain sights and smells in summertime (e.g. chlorine, sunscreen, etc.) can surface a counterintuitive melancholy around days gone by and the loss of youth. The sadness that this particular summer is about to join those past ones as a mere memory simply piles atop that feeling.
Furthermore, this seasonal transition from summer to fall may play to some primitive associations with stress. “On a primal level, we might associate summer with prosperity (harvests) and celebrations, so we still have cultural memories of summer meaning safer and more pleasant weather in a lot of places” says Dr. Daramus. “So when ‘winter is coming’, as they say on Game of Thrones, there is a primitive association with colder weather and limited food.”
“On a primal level, we might associate summer with prosperity (harvests) and celebrations. So when ‘winter is coming’, as they say on Game of Thrones, there is a primitive association with colder weather and limited food.” —Dr. Daramus
But if your ask Lauren Zander, celebrity life coach and author of Maybe It’s You, a probable source of summertime sadness is that it urges people to check in with themselves, their progress, and how they feel about those that. “I think fewer people realize that August and September can also be a triggering time, and not just in an end-of-the-summer bummer kind of way, but more of our own internal clock of ‘where we should be by now,'” she says. “It often leaves us feeling like we’re failing ourselves, which lends itself to anxiety and depression.”
So, what to do about it? Experts share suggestions below for kicking summertime sadness to the curb.
1. Let your destiny lead you
If the source of your sadness has to do with anxiety about where you are in relation to your goals, dreams, and visions, try as best as you can to give yourself a break. “When we feel anxious about ‘where we should be by now’ or ‘where we are in comparison to others,’ it usually means our inner dialogue is talking to us, and we’re triggered by it,” Zander says. So, she suggests, listen to what these emotions are trying to tell you, and then take action accordingly. “Use your anxious moments to kick your own ass into gear, to make change, and to have your mood actually point to where your actions are not matching your dreams,” she says.
2. Practice mindfulness
“It’s okay to feel sad, and it’s okay to feel anxiety about the fall coming, and if we don’t make these feelings ‘wrong’, they are just part of our experience of being human,” Dr. Gould says. “It you note the experience and make some room for it, it makes it okay.”
Through reflection, she adds, you may be able to identify the root of the feeling and then work to address the origin. “For example, if I’ve not been able to do an activity all summer, and then work’s going to be so busy [in the fall] and I won’t have time then, maybe I take steps to plan things to look forward to in in September and in October so that it doesn’t feel like this black and white transition,” Dr. Gould says.
3. Share your feelings and find a community
Communicating to your people how you feel may lead you to feel support given how widespread the experience of summertime sadness is. Dr. Gould says confiding in friends, family, and coworkers can both diminish notions of isolation and provide inspiration for new ways to lift yourself up based on other people’s preferred methods. That said, if negative emotional states triggered by seasonal changes don’t lift, Dr. Gould advises seeing a therapist or another health-care provider.
And, bottom line, there’s no reason for summer’s end to dampen your social and activity calendar. In other words, the party’s not over just because the lights came on (or the sun rose), so to speak.
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