Q: Although I’m looking forward to the sunny weather, summer always seems to bring on additional stress with the change in my family’s schedules. Do you have any tips?
For people of all ages, summertime is associated with excitement, freedom, and the promise of a vacation from the daily grind of school or work. Although the majority of summer side effects are positive, there are certain mental health issues that can become more noticeable, or even worsen, in the summer months.
For children with anxiety issues, the change from the high-structure environment of school to the low-structure environment typified by summer vacation can actually present a problem. Excessive free time can lead to listlessness and irritability in both children and adults. A healthy balance of structure and free time is something that humans crave.
Many people experience a decrease in depressive symptoms in the summer months. However, when depressive symptoms don’t improve as the weather changes, it can make symptoms that much more noticeable. While friends and family are making plans and enjoying the sun, the depressed individual’s lack of energy and interest in activity comes into sharp focus.
How to help your child
Parents can help with loneliness-driven depression by working closely with their kids to find structured activities of interest to their kids. While piano and tutoring could count, try and take advantage of the freedom that summer months provide by allowing your kids to explore new interests and non-school related pursuits. Along with formal activities, provide some summertime structure by making plans and putting them on a family calendar, and by setting up a typical daily or weekly routine. Make sure exercise is a regular part of summertime because exercise is one of the more effective treatments for anxiety and depression.
Set up some structure around screen time. This applies to both kids and adults. Screens are an all too easy way to fill time, and it’s normal to gravitate towards this option. Especially when kids are away from their school friends, they may gravitate towards electronics. Work to set up reasonable limits on phone and screen time.
Phones should live in a central area at night, and be turned off an hour before bedtime as the blue light (and exciting distraction) they provide can interfere with sleep schedules. Computer and TV time should be very limited during social and family occasions, and should not take the place of in-person socializing.
Encourage your kids (or your spouse, or yourself) to set up face-to-face social events on a regular basis. Time with friends is important and it can provide the needed structure to an otherwise lengthy and stressful summer.
By Brittany Steffen, MS, LMFT Counselor at PRO Club’s Counseling Center.
If you have a question for her, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question and her advice could appear in a future issue of PRO Pulse.