Summertime and the Mentally Ill: How the Most Relaxing Time of Year Can Also Be the Most Stressful

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Ahh, summer. Everyone’s favorite time of year. No school, no homework, less responsibilities, and much more free time. Going swimming, going on vacation, hanging out with friends and family are just some of the wonderful things we get to do during the summer. Yes, summer is so much fun, there’s just no disputing that! But for those who are mentally ill, summer can actually be a really stressful time. Because summer is full of no school, no homework, and less responsibilities, that also means summer is a time of a lack of routine. Routine is important for everyone, as it keeps us consistent and our bodies functioning the way they should, but routine is especially important for the mentally ill. Without routine, the brain goes into chaos. Every day the brain wakes up not knowing what to expect, and is essentially in a constant state of panic because of this. The lack of routine in and of itself would cause problems for anyone, but for someone who is mentally ill, a lack of routine and more free time are a recipe for disaster.

More free time is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, we would initially think it to be the opposite. However, for someone who is mentally ill, this creates more time to just sit in the thoughts surrounding their brains. It gives the brain more time to dwell on intrusive thoughts, because it doesn’t have anything else it needs to be doing. Because of the added free time, the brain wanders, and when it wanders, it often thinks about triggering things related to the illness that person has. This obviously will create a sense of tension, stress, and even panic for that person.

So what can be done during these months of freedom to help combat these issues? The simple answer is routine.

Often we view summer as if there should be no routines, no schedules or planning, because that ruins the fun. However, having a routine over extended breaks can really help your mental health. Routines do not always have to be based on school work and things of that sort. You can make a routine fun! A good idea is to have a summer routine that you stick to. This can include, but is not limited to, waking up and going to bed at the same times every day, being mindful of what you are eating, exercising regularly (it works even better if you exercise at the same times and on the same days each week), getting a job (or maybe taking a summer class even) to help you set consistency and to keep you busy, or even just setting aside time to go do small activities such as going to a store you like or walking around outside. These things are just a few of the ways you can make a summer routine that will help keep you consistent!

When those of you with mentally illness incorporate routine into your summer, it really helps the illness not feel as bad as it would without it. This is because your mind has less time to wander, your body doesn’t have as many reasons to panic, and therefore your intrusive thoughts and/or worrisome behaviors are kept at bay a little easier.

Of course this is not a foolproof plan, and this by no means is suggesting that doing these small steps will relieve you of your mental illness burdens completely for the summer. But, these issues can be made a little more bearable by doing these things while you do not have consistent school/work routine.

I hope this helps make your summer brighter and better!

With love,

Maddie

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