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July 2014

6 strategies for overcoming a summer slump



When the weather starts to really heat up, the days are longer, and the thick weight of humidity settles over everything, you know summer has arrived. I've always loved summer (though not quite as much as autumn), but there are times when it's so hot that everything starts to feel hazy, when it's so humid that everything just feels heavy, and when the lengthy days make me long for the carefree summers of my youth. It's usually about now — near the beginning of July — when I start to experience what I call the "summer slump."

The summer slump encompasses everything from: feeling guilty when the weather is glorious but I don't want to (or can't) go outdoors; to experiencing envy when envisioning all the children and teachers who have three months off; to being tired and sluggish from the heat: to experiencing waves of nostalgia for summertimes past (perhaps the reason for the success of Lana Del Rey's song "Summertime Sadness").

The summer slump is when you know you should be enjoying the sunny, warm weather (that weather you long for all winter!), but for whatever reason, you'd just rather not. It's a mixture of lethargy, boredom, and restless that makes you simultaneously want to frolic amid the bees and blossoms outside and don sunglasses indoors beneath an air-conditioning vent. It's the pressure of trying to enjoy a season that might have been just a bit more enjoyable when it meant three months away from the classroom. Do I sound like a summertime version of Scrooge yet?

Clearly the summer slump is hitting me hard this year and it comes with a lot of negative thinking — something I'd like to avoid in my quest for a more positive, more present life. Instead of just waiting it out or wasting time longing for autumn as I often do, I've given some thought to some positive, proactive choices I can make to overcome the summer slump and actually make the most of the rest of the season. If you, too, are slumping in the midst of summer, here are some ideas for recapturing that summertime feeling. 



I often find myself slipping into a summer slump when I spend time thinking about how lovely it was to be younger in summer. In my mind, summers past were filled with endless days spent reading, lounging poolside and soaking up the sun, darting through trees as fireflies blinked in the darkness. The memories are coated in a layer of carefree bliss. In reality, when I was young, summer meant a lot of boredom coupled with a trapped feeling that came with having no routine. When I was in high school and college, the boredom (slightly tempered by summer jobs) lead to trouble — mistakes and messes and whole days wasted in a hungover haze. It's funny how our minds so often romanticize the past, isn't it? My mind seems particularly keen to do it when it comes to summertime memories. And when I think about past summers as picture perfect months, the summer slump gains strength. Instead, it's important to be realistic about the past (in summer and always). There were certainly some amazing summer moments, but overall, summer is just the same as the rest of the year: filled with highs and lows, excitement and boredom, contentment and restlessness.   



For me, summer comes with some sort of pressure to go, do, see, experience. Perhaps it comes from those school days when you'd return from months away and have to write about what you did over the summer (or, at the very least, answer questions about where you vacationed, if you did anything cool, etc.). Even as an adult, it's still a common question. People often ask, "Any exciting plans for the summer? Going anywhere fun?" In the winter, you can stay in your home all day every day and no one says a thing about it, but in summer, you're expected to do things, to go places. Sometimes going places and doing things just isn't going to happen (either because we don't want it, can't afford it, or don't have time for it) and that's when it gets tough not to feel a bit of summer slump when you have to reply with, "No, no exciting plans. Not really going anywhere either." I'm all for summertime adventures, but not every can or wants to have them. One key for getting away from summer slump is letting go of these expectations. Decide that every season is going to be awesome and take some of the pressure off summer.



One of the reasons I find myself in a bit of a slump mid-summer is the heat. In some places, I'm sure it's a lovely time of year, but here in the suburbs of Washington DC, it gets hot. And not only is it hot, but it's often unbearably humid as well (which is worse than the heat in my opinion). When I'm overheated, I get incredibly cranky and tired, which makes it very difficult to stay positive and enjoy the present. The summer slump quickly takes over when I'm too hot and all I can think is, "I miss winter." To avoid this sluggish haze of too much warmth, it's important to find ways to stay cool. Staying cool physically is essential for staying cool mentally. The best ways I've come across for staying cool are:

  • staying indoors during midday hours,
  • indulging in chilled treats (popsicles!),
  • drinking lots and lots of cold water,
  • turning off lights / appliances not in use,
  • going for a swim in the pool or ocean,
  • wearing light, comfortable clothing,
  • taking a nice, long, cool shower, and
  • trying any of these crazy ideas.

There are tons of ways to stay cool during the summer months, and sometimes it requires making an effort to keep yourself from overheating, but the cooler you keep yourself on the outside, the cooler you'll stay on the inside, making it a lot easier to combat the summer slump. 



It's okay to not be obsessed with summer every single moment that it's happening. In the spirit of Glamour magazine's "Hey, It's Ok!" segment, let me remind you (and myself!) of a few things it's perfectly okay to do this summer. It's okay... to glare at the sunny, blue sky and wish it would rain so you wouldn't be so darn hot. It's okay... to stay inside for a day even if it people keep saying, "but it's such a nice summer day!" It's okay... to choose a black t-shirt and jeans over a flower-print dress. It's okay... to use the air conditioner and a fan. It's okay... to not go on vacation (and not feel an ounce of guilt about it!). It's okay... to read novels set in winter and wish you were in them. It's okay... to think children catching fireflies is pretty cruel. It's okay... to actually stick your head in the freezer. It's okay... to get excited about back-to-school commercials (even if you don't go to school). I could go on and on, but you probably get the idea. It's all about acceptance. If you're in a bit of a summer slump, you don't have to completely push those feelings aside. Instead, allow yourself to feel how you feel. You might not love every moment about summer, and that's okay. Accept how you feel, and then...



If you're in a slump, the "summertime spirit" probably isn't what you want to embrace, but I think there's something to be said for embracing your feelings (as mentioned in the previous point) and then pushing yourself (slightly) out of your comfort zone. The key here is to figure out what summertime really means to you, to consider your fondest memories of summer and strive to reconnect with them. Your summertime spirit might be in diving into a lake on a hot day at camp or reading for hours at the beach or taking in outdoor music shows or whatever first comes to mind when you think: summer. Imagine yourself in the depths of winter — dreading going outdoors because it's so cold and hating the layers you have to put on every time you leave the house — and consider what that version of you would want to be doing in summer. You'll probably recall that, during the winter months, you had some sort of positive summer thought, like "I can't wait to wear flip-flops again!" or "I just want to lay by the pool all afternoon!" Take those thoughts and try to reconnect with them in the present. Do the things your winter-self would have wanted you to do. (And, while you're at it, maybe jot down a few things you'll want to do in the winter so you can enjoy that season when it comes around...)



Being the book nerd that I am, I believe almost all things can be fixed with the power of some inspiring words. When you find yourself in a summer slump (or a slump of any kind), it can be so helpful to pick up a good book and dive into the words you find there. Maybe try reading a summer-themed book so you can soak up the author's words about the summer. (Some of my favorites include: A Hundred Summers, The Jellyfish Season, The Great Gatsby, Just a Summer Romance, The Summer We Read Gatsby, The Last Summer (of You and Me), Summer Sisters, and Maine.) Sometimes, in the midst of a summer slump, it helps to remind yourself why summer is something many of us crave all year long. And if those summer-themed books don't do it for you, just try reading something that inspires and uplifts you. A really great, inspiring read can be a great way to overcome any kind of slump. (Need an inspiring, interactive read? Check out the Live Happily Ever After Now workbook — available only until tomorrow, July 1!)


getting grateful: 4 ways to say thank you

Thank You

One of the most important aspects of living a positive, present life is being grateful. The more thankful you are for the people, experiences, and things you have in your life, the easier it is to stay positive and remain in the moment. Like many kids, I was raised to send thank you notes whenever I received a gift or someone did something nice for me. Unlike most kids, I actually loved writing these notes. Not only was it a chance to pick out pretty stationery (yay!), but it gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I'd received (and how lucky I was to have received it). As a kid, I don't think I fully got it, but now I really get what it means to be grateful. And, more importantly, I get how important it is to embrace that gratitude and then share it with others. 

It might sound cliche, but I've experienced first hand how much gratitude can transform almost any situation. As the quote above states, it's pretty hard to be negative when you're being grateful. The more you fill your heart with thankfulness, the more your attention is directed to what you have, not what you lack. Thankfulness makes you more positive by allowing you to appreciate what you have and it keeps you in the moment by focusing your attention on what's worthy of your gratitude in the present.

Sometimes we don't share gratitude with those around us, even when we feel really, really grateful. Simple as it is, telling others how grateful you are — for a gift, for an act of kindness, for just being there — can be a way to increase positivity in your life. By sharing how you feel, you not only make others feel good (who doesn't love to be thanked?), and, in doing so, you make yourself feel even better. Even though it feels great to be grateful, we don't always show it. Sometimes it's because we don't remember to, but sometimes it's because we aren't quite sure how.

If you're not quite sure how to express your gratitude, here are some of the best ways to take that thankfulness, package it up, and give it to those who would love to know what a positive impact they've had on you. If you want a positivity boost this week, I'd highly recommend doing one of these things!



Sending thank you notes is one of my favorite ways to express gratitude, and it's something that most people really appreciate. Emails work well, but if you want to go the extra mile, send an actual card. In the mail. I've recently discovered Cardstore, where you can send customized cards. They're cheaper than most cards in the store and they send the card for you so even if you're super busy (who isn't?!), you can go online, pick out the perfect thank you, customize it, and send it without having to make a trip to the store or worry about finding a stamp. Check out their thank you cards here.



Another great way to express gratitude is by doing something nice for the person who did something nice for you. It doesn't have to be a big thing, but doing something kind in return will express to your thank-you-deserving friend that you appreciate what he or she did for you and you want to return the favor. A few small acts of kindness you can do: pick up his/her favorite treat, offer to baby/petsit, send flowers or cookies (yum!), donate to his/her favorite charity, run a less-than-fun errand for him/her, give a huge, unexpected hug, or plan a fun day of his/her favorite activities. 



When it comes to saying thank you, a little creativity can go a long way. Consider how you might connect your thankfulness to the gift/experience. For example, let's say a friend picked you up in the middle of the night in a bad neighborhood when your car broke down. Instead texting, "Thank you!," what about sending a cape with a note reading, "You're a true superhero"? Or if a friend picks up your kids from school when you have to stay late at a meeting, send a pack of Lifesavers with a note saying, "You're a lifesaver!" These might sound silly, but creative thank you's are sure to delight the person deserving of thanks (or at least make him or her laugh!).



Nothing brightens someone's day like a smiling face. If someone does something nice for you, take a photo of yourself enjoying the experience or thing and send it to him or her. Whenever I've sent someone a gift and they send me a photo of themselves enjoying it, I feel so thrilled that they like it. If the gratitude-worthy situation doesn't lend itself to a photo of the experience/thing, you can just take a happy photo of yourself smiling and feeling grateful and send that along. To see your happy face is probably why someone did something kind for you in the first place, after all! 

keeping calm: 6 tricks for mastering relaxation



You know those people who radiate a sense of calm, who make you feel more relaxed simply by being in their presence? I've always envied those people, those who don't seem to have a racing mind, a constant need to be somewhere other than where they are. (In all honesty, that's one of the reasons I started this site — a desire to be more present, to keep calm in the face of any situation by not dwelling on the past or fretting about the future.) Unfortunately, staying calm and relaxed doesn't come easy to me.

Even though I spend much of my time doing "relaxing" things (like reading), I still have a tough time keeping a sense of calm. Since the concept of keeping calm is something I really admire and I would love to embrace a more relaxed, easy-going attitude, I came up with a list of six tricks for bringing my attention back to the moment and focusing on a more serene state of mind. 



Sounds like the opposite of what you'd want to do to keep calm, right? I'm not talking about putting mental pressure on yourself (we all have enough of that!). I'm talking about the physical kind of pressure. Putting pressure on the right places on your body can help ease tension and help create a sense of calm. I'm sure there are tons of key, calm-inducing pressure points, but I recommend starting with this easy one (especially since you can do it almost anywhere!): Using your thumb, apply pressure to the place where your palm meets your wrist at the base of your little (pinkie) finger. Gently massage that spot for two minutes. Even if the whole pressure point thing doesn't do it for you, taking a two-minute timeout can help put your mind at ease. 



A few months ago, my boyfriend's mom introduced me to the concept of Zentangle, which is basically a kind of meditative drawing, in which you create art by repeating patterns over and over again. It's the kind of thing anyone can do — so no "I'm not artistic!" excuses — and it truly does help to create a sense of calm. Because you're not necessarily worried about what you're creating (all of the patterns somehow seem to create beautiful things, without even planning ahead!), you're able to just create without the stress of how it will turn out. It's also a great opportunity to get in a meditative-like zone, in which you're concentrating so hard on the patterns that you're not worrying about the day-to-day stress of your life. 



This is an incredibly difficult thing for me (and most people!) to do. We're all so connected to our electronic devices that it can be a challenge to separate from them, even for a short time. However, I've noticed that my phone (much as I love it!) often competes with a sense of calm. Because there's so much to do on my phone — Instagram! Texts! Emails! Pinterest! Feedly! Buzzfeed! — I'm frequently frazzled and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and inspiration found on the tiny little screen. I think there's a lot of value in staying connected, but there's also a lot to be gained from putting the phone down for a little while each day and focusing on what's happening in real life. Focusing on the present moment truly helps create a more calm mindset. 



Whenever I have trouble falling asleep, I almost always use Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) to relaz myself. It's a simple activity that's all about squeezing and releasing your muscles to get your body into a more relaxed state. First, you start at your toes, squeezing the muscles there for 5-10 seconds, releasing for 15-20 seconds. Do this for each muscle group from the tip of your toes to the top of your head. And don't forget about the little muscles (like fingers and brows!). After you've squeezed all of your muscles individually, tighten them all together at once and hold for 5-10 seconds. This always helps me feel more relaxed and it's pretty easy to do almost anywhere (like, say, the bathroom at work?) to achieve a bit of serenity.



When I was a kid, I had a lavender eye mask that I bought at Bath & Body Works. I'm not much of a scent person (I don't wear perfume and I usually dislike when others do), but I loved putting that little silky eye mask on before I went to bed, inhaling deeply to relax myself with its lavender aroma. Lavender in particular has a calming scent, and you can find it these days in all sorts of products (like this and this and this). Pick up something lavender-scented and inhale it when you need an instant hit of calm. Chamomile, sandalwood, jasmine, and rose are also said to have calming effects. There might also be scents that are calming to you — ones that remind you of childhood or a loved one — that could work well to help calm you whenever you're feeling stressed. 



Talking a walk is a great way to literally step away from stress and find a calmer state of mind. Even if you don't walk far, just getting away from your desk or home for a few minutes can help you feel more at peace with yourself. If possible, try as hard as you can not to think about whatever's worrying you or stressful when you go for a walk. Instead, strive to pay attention to the world around you, observing what you see from a neutral point of view. Ideally, it's most helpful to take a walk completely in silence, but if, like me, you find that a bit dull, put on the Relaxing Walk Playlist I created on YouTube while walking to direct your mind to a more tranquil place.