Dealing with Summertime Sadness
Summer has its own darkness. Thunderstorms, closed canopies, forests cast in shadow. Twilight woodlands where mushrooms bloom. For all its long hours of light, summer is a very literally dark time in my house. Built in the middle of a forested grove, every year my home becomes a deeply shaded cave during the summer months. It’s a reprieve from the heat, but the darkness also mirrors a twin side of summer— one we don’t talk about nearly enough.
The term “summertime sadness” has been immortalized by Lana Del Rey’s now-classic ballad, but summertime blues have always been a part of the human experience. Though much less talked about than wintertime doldrums, SAD (or seasonal affective disorder) can also occur during the summer months. For many people, it’s normal to have the height of summer’s bright yang offset by that dark dot of yin.
Part of what makes summer hard is the pressure we put on ourselves to feel as sunny within as it is without. In the warm months there is often a stark contrast between that bright light, party spread, beach for miles vibe— and the reality of what we might be feeling inside. When we’re dealing with grief, loss, depression, or anxiety during the summer months, those feelings can be made more intense by the sense that we’re simply not supposed to feel that way. The gap between how we hoped to feel, and how we do feel, makes our experience seem that much weightier. But it’s entirely normal— and more common than you think— to have the summertime blues.
Summer can be intense in the best of times— especially for sensitive people. Busy schedules, fewer hours of sleep, and endless weeding in the garden. Here in Appalachia, when I poll my friends, most say summer is their least favorite season— and I understand why. Everything that doesn’t move, molds. Pest pressure intensifies and some days are so hot and humid the air feels like soup.
This year, more people than usual seem to be struggling with summertime. After over a year of lockdowns, many of us were ready for the freeing release of summer’s possibilities. But the reality may be a bit different. We hoped to be ignited by all the opened opportunities, and instead we may feel overwhelmed. We expected to launch back into every project that got put on hold, but maybe we aren’t quite ready yet.
The gap between where we wanted to be this summer, and where we are— still processing the enormity of what we went through and who we’ve become on the other side— is just a part of our journey right now. And that’s ok.
If you’ve been struggling this summer, you’re not alone. In fact, it seems more common than ever to feel a bit “off” this season. Luckily, the sea-blue clouds of the hydrangea and mushrooms blooming creekside are all saying the same thing: darkness is a natural part of this season, but that doesn’t mean you need to walk through the shadows alone.
Keep reading for six earth-steeped ways to deal with summertime sadness.
Six Ways to Deal With Summertime Sadness
1. Let however you’re feeling be ok.
We can cause ourselves more pain when we deny or judge how we feel. Simply acknowledging the fact that you are sad, and letting that be ok, can go a long way to take the edge off the intensity of your feelings. If you are down, instead of resisting or criticizing, try embracing that feeling and ask it what it has to say. Where does the sadness live in your body? What does it look or feel like? Trust your process. Know that feelings contain valuable information. When we allow those feelings to flow, we can receive the message our bodies and hearts are trying to send to us.
2. Make a flower essence
Flower essences are my favorite remedies to uplift a downtrodden spirit. Whenever you are in the world, look around to see if there is a flower that lifts your heart or simply intrigues you. Try making an essence from that bloom and taking it every day. Flower essences are some of the most powerful earth medicines I know for shifting our inner landscape.
3. Dip in cold water
Research has shown that cold water immersion can do wonders to alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety. Whenever I dip in the ice-cold streams of these mountains, every other thought flies out of my head and I simply become present with what is: water, light, and my body alive. Whenever you can, try taking a dip in cold water. The ocean, rivers, a lake at night. If you don’t have access to wild water, jump into the pool or take a cold shower first thing in the morning.
4. Plan something to look forward to
Sadness and stuckness go hand-in-hand. Planning something to look forward to can help you feel less stagnant and give your mind something positive to focus on. You don’t have to look too far into the future, just planning a dinner with friends or a hike with your neighbor can break up the doldrums and uplift your heart.
5. Incorporate fresh herbs into your diet
Summer is rich with fragrant, fresh herbs. Many of these herbs have natural anti-anxiety and enlivening properties— just smell a handful of basil and you’ll know what I mean. Crush mint into your sparkly water, sprinkle summer savory over your squash, brush your BBQ with springs of rosemary or use a spike of lavender to stir your tea. Working with fresh herbs brings us into direct contact with their uplifting aromatic compounds and the medicine of coming into bloom.
6. Make a batch of lemon balm lemonade
Lemon balm is one of my all-time favorite garden herbs. A member of the mint family, lemon balm grows prolifically all season long. Lemon balm is known for its fresh citrus-mint scent and is beloved in the herbal community as one of the few herbs that is both an anti-anxiety agent and an anti-depressant. Find some fresh lemon balm in your neighbor’s garden or get some dried herb from the store and make yourself a batch of lemon balm lemonade. Sip whenever you need a lift. (Here’s a great recipe from The Herbal Academy)
As you step into the depths of this summertime, remember that everything has a season— even sadness. If you are in a hard moment, know that, like the hot breezes of summer transitioning to the cool winds of fall, everything shifts with time. Until then, let’s sip our lemonade together on the porch this evening and wait for the fireflies to come out.
P.S. What helps you when you’re feeling those summertime blues? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.