Summer may not be anything we pictured, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be picture-perfect in its own way.
If you’ve been feeling down about the less-than-fun circumstances of a summer filled with COVID-19 precautions, you’re not alone.
Many of us are swapping our cross-country getaways, music festivals, and big family reunions for short road trips down to our local beach, physically distant picnics in the park, and infrequent takeout visits to our favorite restaurants.
Let’s be real.
The summer of 2020 just isn’t what we pictured at all, and trying to cope with the situation has been really difficult for everyone.
“Many of us are feeling the force of the ‘summer pandemic syndrome,’” says Daryl Appleton, a psychotherapist.
“In my office, I’m seeing clients come in with symptoms of something similar to a seasonal affective disorder like we have in the winter months,” says Appleton. “People report feeling ‘lower’ than usual and often struggle with proverbial walls that the pandemic has set in place, cutting off a sense of summer normalcy.”
It’s understandable that, after months of a winter spent stuck inside for fear of the pandemic, many folks are feeling the urge to get outdoors and socialize.
“On the social side, we continue to see social gatherings limited, weddings called off, and celebrations being rescheduled,” explains Appleton. “But we’re also seeing secret gatherings where many people report feelings of guilt or peer pressure after leaving. We’re placing ourselves in the dichotomy of wants versus needs, and for many, it is triggering anxiety.”
After years of experiencing many of the same routines and rituals every summer, we’ve had to change our mindset and our plans, based on what’s open and which activities are safe to do.
“This is a very difficult adjustment and longer-term than many expected — back in March, we perhaps prepared for a few weeks of changes,” says Elizabeth Hinkle, a licensed marriage and family therapist and Talkspace therapist. “Now we’re understanding the long-term picture will include more adjustments, losses, and changes in plans.”
Not only has the pandemic drastically altered how we thought our summers would turn out, but we’re also seeing how it’s playing out in different social contexts, for better or worse.
“Socially, we’re also seeing losses and some tension as well,” says Hinkle. “There are differences in opinion about the best ways to go about socializing — some are being more cautious with their plans and outings.”
At the same time, others are throwing caution to the wind and simply following through on their summer plans anyway. Only time will tell what the repercussions of both choices will be.
Let go of ‘shoulds’
The first step to reframing our mindset about our new summer plans is to toss out the word “should.”
“The second we get rid of the word ‘should,’ the quality of our lives dramatically increases, because ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ concepts are rooted in judgment and expectations,” says Appleton. “They can be exhausting time suckers that keep us feeling stuck and angry that things are not as we want them.”
Appleton suggests taking time to reflect whenever you think of the “shoulds” in your life. At the end of the sentence or thought, add in “and that’s OK.”
For example, you may find yourself saying, “I should be getting married right now, but I’m not…and that’s OK.”
“By allowing yourself to change the narrative, you are giving power into the here and now and not focusing your energy on the deep rabbit hole of things we cannot change,” Appleton says.
Sit with your feelings
While it’s important to change the narrative in your mind around summer, Appleton argues that presence is even more powerful than positivity.
“Being able to sit with your feelings and understand what you need in order to heal can tip the scales to true behavior change and emotional reframing,” Appleton explains.
“Allowing yourself time to process the disappointments can look like engaging in a body scan by asking yourself, ‘What am I feeling and where am I feeling it?’” she says. “Staying present can also manifest by challenging yourself to fully engage in the situation, as it keeps your mind and actions in the here and now.”
You can put this into action with a meditation practice that focuses on accepting whatever arises, even disappointment. Remember to keep at it, and you may find that letting go comes naturally. Even 5 minutes per day can make a big difference.
If you don’t like to sit in traditional meditation, you can still practice the technique of acknowledging, accepting, and releasing every time a disappointed thought or feeling arises.
Whether you’re in the grocery store, the car, or the office, you can accept, acknowledge, and let go.
Having to reschedule that incredible summer trip to Paris or a date night at your favorite local restaurant is a huge bummer, but it doesn’t mean you can’t try and make the best of it by throwing a physically distant French fete at home.
“Dig into your creative and over-the-top side by creating personalized menus, floral arrangements, themed backdrops and playlists, or any other ideas to make what would be a small night into something spectacular and special,” suggests Appleton.
Rework old plans
Hinkle also suggests tweaking your original plans.
“Consider adjustments you can make to your plans that are possible with the restrictions,” she says. “Is it possible to find a lake nearby to go to for the day while staying physically distanced? Can you plan a picnic in the park?”
Find a new perspective
For both Hinkle and Appleton, it’s all about a mindset shift.
“The best thing to come out of this pandemic is that we’ve been given the unique opportunity to see things through a different lens,” says Appleton.
It all comes down to the story we tell ourselves.
“We can choose the narrative of our summer,” Appleton says. “It can be read as a tragedy full of what-ifs and missed connections, or it can be an uplifting story of revival — we are in charge of the story we tell ourselves and the world around us.”
Practicing gratitude regularly (such as by writing down five things you’re grateful for every day) can help boost your spirits.
Developing a solid self-care routine can also help.
“Prioritize taking care of yourself to help you handle what comes your way in the form of stress,” suggests Hinkle. “It’s also OK to not feel positive or force that feeling — it’s important to accept and validate all emotions you’re experiencing.”
Lastly, Hinkle suggests finding even small things that still feel good.
“Perhaps come up with some new rituals, like making your own ice cream with fresh peaches,” she says. “Think of the things you enjoy and be creative with adaptations — remind yourself that it’s not always going to be this way.”
While this summer has turned out to be anything but normal, we can make it a time spent with close friends and family — with physical distancing precautions in place, of course — that we’ll never forget.
This summer is the season to recharge at home, take up a new hobby, and reimagine the possibilities that can happen in our own living room or backyard.
It’s the summer of creativity and new ways for connection. And while it may not be anything we pictured, that doesn’t mean it still can’t be picture-perfect in its own way.
It might just require a new kind of lens.
Daley Quinn is a beauty and wellness journalist and content strategist living in Boston. She’s a former beauty editor at a national magazine, and her work has appeared on sites including Allure, Well + Good, Byrdie, Fashionista, The Cut, WWD, Women’s Health Mag, HelloGiggles, Shape, Elite Daily, and more. You can see more of her work on her website.