When summer comes around, weather forecasts predict the next several months to offer sunny skies and warm temperatures. For some of us, this is our favorite season. Summer is equated with the beach, camping, swimming, barbecues, picnics, and relaxation. The best summertime activities will take you outdoors, and when there is a rainy day there are also numerous inside activities that allow for time for relaxation, self-reflection, and entertainment.
For people who have a mental health diagnosis, the benefits of engaging in summer activities are great! We’ve researched the best summertime activities to get involved in, have lots of fun doing and how these activities will improve your mental health.
Summertime means the outdoors are vibrant with activity. Spending time in nature is one way to relax, have fun, and build an appreciation for our planet and the things of the natural world. Hiking, walking at the beach, and enjoying a picnic at a park are all activities that people with mental health concerns can benefit from and safely enjoy. Here are some of the scientific reasons spending time in nature will improve your mental health.
One study researched how walking in nature versus in the city lessened neural activity in the brain that is activated when a person is experiencing solemn thoughts. Researchers at Stanford University found measurable evidence that walking in nature alleviates depression.
“The researchers found little difference in physiological conditions but marked changes in the brain. Neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment” (Stanford University)
Spending time in nature also means that you will be in the sun a lot and sunlight boosts production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for good health and affects a person with depression positively. Harvard University found that “vitamin D is also produced by the body in a complex process that starts when rays in the invisible ultraviolet B (UVB) part of the light spectrum are absorbed by the skin. The liver, and then the kidneys, are involved in the steps that eventually result in a bioavailable form of the vitamin that the body can use” (Harvard Health News).
Another huge bonus to having fun in the sun surrounded by nature is that a person’s serotonin levels increase when they go in the sun! Be sure to use sunscreen and to wear sunglasses as some anti-depressants cause photosensitivity. Sunburns and, watery eyes, as well as headaches or and migraines, can be symptoms as a result of medication-induced photosensitivity.
The following is a list of tricyclic antidepressants that cause photosensitivity: amitriptyline (Elavil), clomipramine (Anafranil), doxepin (Sinequan), imipramine (Tofranil), trimipramine (Surmontil), amoxapine (Amoxapine Tablets), desipramine (Norpramin), nortriptyline (Pamelor, Aventyl), and protriptyline (Vivactil).
Spending time in nature this summer does not need to be an exhausting hike or become some huge physical accomplishment. By simply taking your shoes off in the sand or grass that will help you connect with the earth and enhances our connection to our inner self and builds our self-esteem. We recommend allowing plenty of time for exploring the beauty that lives in nature this summer.
Animals Soothe and Entertain Us
Another activity that promotes mental health and can be enjoyed outdoors and indoors is spending time with animals. Research confirms that even just the act of petting an animal for several minutes a day boosts serotonin levels reducing the effects of stress hormones linked to increased anxiety and depression. Spending time with a dog or a cat this summer promotes touch, changes our speech and attitude, make us laugh and smile, and animals allow a person to experience empathy for another creature.
Additionally, The Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine states that:
“The practice of using the companionship of domestic animals to assist in the socialization of patients with mental disorders dates back to the late eighteenth century” (CIAS).
Most importantly, animals allow us to get out of our ‘own way’ and focus on something else. Many people with anxiety or depression find solace in connecting with animals. Ideally, this summer could be an opportunity to begin taking your dog for walks outdoors regularly or a time on deciding to get a new pet. Birds and cats also help calm anxiety and offer a positive source of distraction from our own lives.
Another activity that is even more fun and relaxing completed outside, thus really improving mental health, is Yoga! Yoga is a proven form of exercise that causes relaxation. Yoga improves strength and flexibility, and it reduces stress! This summer can be a perfect time to sign up for an outdoor Yoga class. Depending on where you live, there may be outdoor Yoga Classes available. Our center is located in beautiful Del Ray Beach Florida, and numerous yoga studios offer yoga on the beach.
The Well-Planned Vacation
The most obvious activity that people engage in during the summertime months is going on vacation! Vacations can be relaxing and open doors to new experiences that can never be forgotten if they are planned well. The only reason a vacation can turn into a stressful nightmare is because of poor planning. If you or your family and friends are making plans to go on a vacation somewhere, plan-ahead.
What planning ahead means for people with mental health concerns is first that the location they choose and who they plan to go with will foster their ability to remain healthy. Be sure to discuss your needs with the people you are vacationing with. For example, you may require a silent environment every morning for 30 minutes to meditate, or if you get restless at night and will have to turn on a light in a hotel room to read, or perhaps you might require extra validation and encouragement from the people you are with while you are on vacation. All of these situations should be discussed ahead of time as you plan your vacation.
Another preventable problem you can do on vacation is bringing enough medications with current prescriptions already filled at a pharmacy in the town you will be visiting. Lost luggage and theft do happen when people travel for their vacation. By calling ahead to the pharmacy in the city, before you leave and requesting that they fill your medications, is one way you can rest assured that your vacation will not have problems that could affect your mental health.
Another important facet to planning a vacation is to utilize the concierge services if your hotel has them. The concierge’s job is to make the guests happy. They are there to provide directions and information on where to go for fun, meals, theater or concert tickets and do this free of charge. Finally, make sure that you have enough money to cover any emergency that could occur. Rental cars get rented, and there are times when you will be forced to upgrade or leave with no car. And don’t forget about flight changes and taxi fare.
Take Advantage of the Rain
Summertime is about sunshine, but there are rainy days. If it rains during this summer and you need an activity to fill that day with, we recommend self-care from head to toe. Self-care includes reading uplifting books, meditation, listening to music, cooking healthy foods, taking a warm bath, and organizing your life. Rainy days push us indoors, but it doesn’t have to be boring.
Organizing just one closet can boost your sense of accomplishment and unleash a ton of motivation to begin keeping the clutter down. Doing a soothing activity, such as reading a book helps distract our minds from anything that is bothering us. Meditation and listening to music also evoke a sense of peace that people with anxiety and depression always appreciate.
Summertime does not have to be overwhelming or stressful. By engaging well-planned activities that foster good mental health, you are sure to get the most out of the outdoors and indoors this summer.
You don’t have to go it alone
Depression, sadness, anxiety disorders, stress, and worry can make it difficult to find happiness in your life. We all need support at different times in our lives. Most of our clients seek help when their current way of dealing with life’s challenges no longer works for them. With a caring, non-judgmental and solution-focused approach, we will explore your issues and challenges in a safe therapeutic environment at our private practice in Delray Beach, Florida.
We also offer remote online therapy from the comfort and security of home that will allow you to learn more effective ways of managing your anxiety and stress.
Let’s walk the path to freedom from depression and anxiety together. If you’re ready to let go of the sadness, depression, fears, worries, and anxieties that are making life difficult, check out our Anxiety & Depression Support Group hosted the 1st Tuesday of each month at the Counseling Center for Growth and Recovery.