I recently spent a considerable amount of time putting away all of the cold weather things: coats, hats, gloves, boots, my favorite sweaters and dresses that will make their debut again in the fall. I’m still in the process of bringing summer clothes to the front of my closet and filling the “mitten bin” in the entryway with sunscreen and bug spray. This summer switch makes a lot of people giddy, and for good reason. Many people boast about the mood-boosting power of summer. For a lot of people, the extra sunshine and difference in daily routine is enough to improve and support their mental health. For others, the sunshine and longer days isn’t an automatic mood-booster.

A friend and colleague of mine and I were talking the other day about how the lack of routine in the summer [compared to our very regimented lives during the rest of the year] can make summer feel overwhelming and can actually add to our anxiety instead of the maybe more common experience for some that the sun zaps anxiety and stress away as soon as summer begins.

Making the Most of the Summer

Wherever you are on the spectrum: completely elated for the mental health benefits that come with the arrival of summer, feeling neutral about summer, or if you, like me, are a bit more apprehensive about the next few months filled with hot days and all that they bring with them, summer can be a time where we are intentional about improving, boosting, maintaining and/or supporting our mental health. As someone who much prefers fall to summer, I would like to be particularly intentional this summer about engaging in some activities to improve and support my own mental health. Below are some activities to consider that can help us make the most of this sunny season.

(Note: None of this is to suggest that these activities can or should replace professional intervention and care for mental health disorders. These are meant to support efforts to improve mental health, not to treat disorders for which therapy and.or other professional intervention’s are necessary.)

10 Summer Activities to Improve Your Mental Health

1. Find a hiking or walking trail you’ve never been to

If you enjoy hiking or walking, finding a new trail can be a great way to help yourself engage in what summer has to offer and boost your mental health.  According to the American Psychological Association, connecting with nature leads to a variety of benefits including “improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.” You may find that this simple habit could have a significant impact on your summer and on your mental health.

2. Meet up with a neighbor or friend to walk daily or weekly

Tack on the benefits of connection with others to the benefits of being in nature, and you have the perfect activity to improve and support your mental health this summer. Setting up a schedule to meet up with a friend who uplifts you can be a simple, yet effective, way to enjoy summer in the presence of someone you care about.

3. Build a summer reading list & find new places to read

Maybe you have already been building your summer reading list, or maybe you don’t consider yourself to be much of a reader at this point, so you aren’t sure where to start. There are many book lists out there that can help you build your reading list – based on the type of books you like to read, authors you have enjoyed before, the length of book you are looking for. Goodreads, your local library, and even Instagram and TikTok are great places to look to build your list. Then, you can challenge yourself to read a little bit each day and even to find new places to read – coffee shops, parks, a beach. 

As someone who doesn’t inherently enjoy the heat in the summer, having a book is a good bridge to enjoying the outdoors with an activity that can be done anywhere. There is something gratifying about checking off books from a summer reading list, too. 🙂    

4. Plant a vegetable or flower garden in your yard or on your patio

I am not great at gardening or anything akin to it, so last summer, I planted a single tomato plant that I worked to keep alive throughout the duration of the summer. Someone who knows their way around a garden may smile in that “aww, that’s so sweet” kind of way at my little plant, but it was quite an accomplishment for me! 🙂 And I did begin to enjoy watching it grow, taking care of it, and eventually picking the tomatoes that grew.

5. Learn a new skill (by yourself or with a friend!)

Learning something new provides a wealth of benefits. Research suggests that, “‘If you engage in a new skill, you’re going to thicken the brain’s prefrontal cortex’ . . . ‘As you develop a new skill, you’ll gain courage and confidence, which helps you override fear and anxiety. You’ll feel more empowered.’” 

The options are limitless when it comes to the skill you can work on this summer. Maybe this will be the summer you try learning how to golf or play pickleball, or maybe you have been saying you want to learn how garden, speak a different language, play the piano, cook or bake something new, or try your hand at crocheting. Wherever your interests lie, the summer is a great time to tap into them; you may just discover a new hobby!

6. Explore a local farmer’s market

Many areas have local markets that pop up all throughout the summer. Make it a point to check out a few of them, even if you don’t have the intention to buy anything. I have learned about some of the local farms people have, how and when they started making some of the things they are selling (breads, jams, dips); it gives me the opportunity to connect with my community and appreciate the hard work, heart, and stories behind the products they are selling. This simple act of exploration can foster a sense of belonging and support for local businesses, all while enjoying the fresh summer air.

7. Take your dog to a new park, beach, or part of town each week

If you have a dog, your furry companion could be the perfect sidekick for exploring new parts of the area in which you live. Enjoying activities with your dog is shown to reduce stress, and the novelty of new environments provides the opportunity for you to enjoy the outdoors and engage in social interactions you encounter along the way. All of this is shown to have mood-, creativity-, focus-boosting benefits. Plus, these adventures can strengthen the bond between you and your furry friend, a bond that can be a great source of emotional support and companionship this summer!

8. Go U-picking

In recent years, I have found strawberry and blueberry picking to be a fun, inexpensive way to enjoy being outside in the summer. Last year, I took my daughter lavender-picking, too. These were fun, easy activities that you could do by yourself or with someone else.  Check the picking seasons for fruits and flowers in your area, and make a plan to can, bake with, or give away some of what you pick.

9. Commit to cleaning out and reorganizing one area of your home

There are studies that show a correlation between “disorganization, clutter, and mental health conditions, including, depression, anxiety, and stress.” Many of these same studies find that decluttering and cleaning can boost your mood, improve focus, and help you feel more in control of your surroundings. Commiting to tidying up at least one space in your home can be an easy, attainable way to improve your mental health this summer!

10.  Attend community events

Check your community’s website and search facebook events that are happening in your area. I find festivals, markets, concerts, fundraisers, events for kids (if you have littles!), and more by doing this. This is a great way to get plugged into your community and to bolster up your summer schedule if that’s something you are looking to do!

Improve Your Mental Health this Summer

These activities are a small drop in the bucket of potential ways to boost and support your mental health this summer. From lowering anxiety to enhancing your mood, small changes can make a big difference in the overall state of your mental health and wellbeing. Start with an activity that resonates with you, make this summer one where you find joy in everyday activities and moments, and reduce stress, boost your mood and improve your mental health in the process.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

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