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It’s fall already?! 5 ways to cope with end-of-summer blues

It’s fall already?! 5 ways to cope with end-of-summer blues

       Fall is often a time where we get a high volume of referrals at the Connecte Montreal Psychology Group – and that’s not entirely surprising - the warm weather is fading and the reality of back-to-school/work (whether for ourselves or our kids) is setting in. All of this can contribute to feelings of heightened sadness (as we ‘mourn’ the end of summer) or anxiety (as we picture the next few months like a mountain of upcoming work projects and dread the inevitable shift to colder weather). Some research even shows an association between vitamin D (which we get in part from the sun) and mood (Anglin, Samaan, Walter, & McDonald, 2013). It might seem like an objectively undesirable situation that we just can’t do much about. As it turns out, we have a lot more control than we may realize. In this blogpost, I’ll suggest some specific things that you can do to make this transition to fall more bearable, and hopefully even enjoyable.

#1. Take things one step at a time. It sounds cliché, but it’s true! Take the example of a student who, on her first day of school, looks at her syllabus and sees every chapter she will have to read, every assignment she will have to write, and every exam she will have to take for the remainder of the school year… of course she would feel overwhelmed and/or anxious! And she’s right, at some point she will have to undertake all of those challenging tasks. But viewing the school year that way is akin to looking at all of the food she will eat in a semester piled up on her kitchen floor – that would be enough to make even the biggest foodie lose her appetite. Instead, we want to take things one step at a time. For example, instead of thinking of everything you have to do in the upcoming semester, try instead to focus on what you have to do that week, that day, or even that morning. This change in perspective can make things more manageable. Indeed, much research has shown that the way we think about things can have a tremendous impact on our mood (Greenberger & Padesky, 2015).

#2. Shift your basis of comparison. If you love warm weather and find yourself feeling down after comparing the current 12-degree weather to the sunny 22-degree days that we enjoyed just a few short weeks ago, try to then compare the current weather to the much colder temperatures that we have endured (‘well at least it’s not anywhere near as cold as it was in February!’) or that people in other countries are currently exposed to. Maybe there are some things you could do without from the summer months – like the sticky humidity or those pesky mosquitos! Shifting our baseline can have a big impact on how we perceive our current situation.

#3. Consider whether there is anything you actually LIKE about the change in seasons.

a. Maybe you think it’s super interesting that we in Montreal get to have four seasons, whereas temperatures in some other places stay pretty constant over the course of the year; this gives us the opportunity to see our city through an entirely new lens – doesn’t your neighborhood look totally different when the streets are basked in sun versus colorful fall leaves or a blanket of fresh white snow? That variety can keep things novel and exciting should we choose to look at things this way.

b. Make a list of all the fun things you can do in the upcoming season(s) that you didn’t get to do in the previous one. Maybe you finally get to go skiing again once the weather gets cold enough - especially if one of your values is being healthy/active or being in nature. Or maybe you just love watching your kids roll around in the colorful fall leaves. Maybe you have been meaning to take up photography and the changing city views are leaving you inspired. Instead of looking back longingly at the lovely summer we just had or dreading the upcoming winter, why not plan fun things that you can look forward to doing in the coming month or two? Maybe you can rent a cozy log cabin with your family or friends, or maybe you can look forward to the winter holidays.

c. If you’re having a hard time thinking of something you actually like about the colder months, one of my favorite ways to do this is to follow the lead of children! Those little people know how to have a good time – and they can be a great source of inspiration – snow fights, rolling down a mountain, etc. 

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#4. Instead of trying to deny or disconnect from the inevitable fact that the season is changing, practice heightening your awareness by being mindful about these changes; try to be fully conscious and aware of the present moment, without being judgmental of your experience (click here for a review of the positive effects that mindfulness can have on mental health). Consider the difference between walking out of your house and grumbling to yourself about how the weather is getting colder versus taking a minute to notice how the crisp fresh air feels on your cheeks, how the crunchy leaves feel when you step on them as you walk down the street, etc. For more information about mindfulness, check out my colleague Dr. Natsumi Sawada’s blogpost.

#5. Increase self-care. Self-care can mean different things to different people; examples include taking time to prepare a healthy meal for yourself, reading a book by your favorite author, going to bed early, going for a run, or carving out time to catch up with a good friend. You might even talk to that good friend about how you notice a dip in your mood around this time of year; he or she might feel similarly, and it might help you to feel that you two are in it together. Self-care can contribute to improved mood, and pre-emptively engaging in more self-care activities can be especially helpful if you have noticed that your mood has tended to dip around this time of year in the past. Check out my colleague Dr. Jodie Richardson’s 3-part blogpost for more information about self-care.

Importantly, these same tips (e.g. shifting your baseline, increasing self-care) can be applied to many other life situations that might have you feeling down. Although the end-of-summer period can be rough for many of us, my hope is that these tips help to make that transition a bit easier!


Simcha Samuel is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Anglin, R. E. S., Samaan, Z., Walter, S. D., McDonald, S. D. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 202, 100–107.

Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C. A. (2015). Mind over mood, second edition: Change how you feel by changing the way you think. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Keng, S.-L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev, 31, 1041–1056.

4 reasons why travel is good for our mental health

4 reasons why travel is good for our mental health

For those of us who love to travel, the days we spend exploring are just about as meaningful and fulfilling as they come. Traveling is a time to disconnect from the daily hassles and stress of work, experience the way other cultures live, try new flavours (a highlight, of course), and, ideally, escape the cold Northeastern winters. It is also becoming increasingly clear that traveling has a number of psychological benefits. Planning ahead and taking that vacation we have been dreaming about can have a positive impact on our well-being, relationships, and maybe even our personality.

1. Traveling can improve our mood and well-being

We all have an intuitive sense that taking a break or trip can help us feel recharged. The good news is that this feeling is supported by research. Taking a vacation actually does improve our well-being and mood (1-3). In addition to helping us feel happier and more relaxed, traveling can reduce burnout and make us feel like we are better able to handle our jobs when we return (4-6). In addition to improving our mood, taking time off work for a vacation is associated with a number of better physical outcomes, including fewer health complaints and improved sleep (2,4,7).

In most studies, we return to our pre-trip state about 3 to 4 weeks after returning home (2,5). However, even if some of the benefits are short-lived, taking a vacation can really help us cope in times of stress and there are plenty of other reasons why travel is good for our well-being.

2. Traveling can have a positive impact on our relationships

Building new connections and strengthening the relationships we already have is a big reason why so many of us are passionate about traveling (8).

For starters, it can sometimes feel much easier to meet, and even approach, new people when we are in a new environment and operating outside of our normal routine and comfort zone. Whether it’s through an organized tour or a chance encounter with a stranger at a café or museum, engaging with fellow travelers or locals can lead to meaningful interactions and even long-lasting friendships. There are also a lot of great apps and resources available for those who are committed to meeting new people while on the road, including Meetup, TravBuddy, and backpackr.

Traveling with our partner or family can also improve our existing relationships. Taking a vacation with our partner or spouse can actually increase our relationship satisfaction (9). Moreover, given that participating in leisure activities as a family can improve feelings of connectedness, it is likely that bringing the kids along can have a positive impact on family functioning (8). At the very least, traveling as a family will no doubt lead to stories and experiences that will be remembered for years to come.

3. Traveling can help us to practice gratitude

Traveling is also a great way to help us recognize how fortunate we are. Through interacting with different people and ways of life, traveling can help us realize our privilege and all of the things we have to be thankful for. Gratitude has been shown time and time again to help us live happier and healthier lives (10). Reflecting on the differences between the places we visit and our life back home, and being grateful for all that we have, including the means to travel, can help us feel more content. As a bonus, traveling and having the opportunity to meet others from different cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds can also help us to be more accepting of diversity and compassionate toward others.

4. Traveling can impact our personality

If that’s not enough, research has also shown us that traveling can impact our personality in some pretty interesting and unexpected ways! We know that personality traits, such as openness to new experiences, can influence how likely someone is to seek out travel opportunities. Even more interesting, is that taking an extended trip can actually influence our personality. For example, long-term travel abroad can lead to increases in our openness to experiences, agreeableness (e.g., warm, empathetic, giving), and emotional stability (i.e., easygoing) (11). Oftentimes, the driving force behind these changes are the experiences and interactions we have with others while on the road.

Taken together, traveling can be an exciting and fulfilling experience, especially when we seek out meaningful interactions and connections. That being said, traveling isn't always in the cards. This is often true during the times when we feel like we need a vacation the most. The good news is that there are things we can do to recreate some of the benefits of a vacation while on a staycation.

  • The main benefits of travel come from disconnecting from the stressors of our everyday life. If you are planning a staycation, make sure you disconnect in the same way you would if you were actually out of town. Refrain from using your phone or the internet (especially for work-related tasks).
  • Take care of yourself. Eat well, sleep in, and try to be physically active. These are all things we are better at prioritizing while away on vacation and a big reason why we find travel so relaxing (3).
  • Schedule social and leisure time. As tempting as it is to stay home and relax on the couch for a week, chances are this isn’t going to help you recharge. Instead, pretend to be a tourist in your own city. Try new restaurants, check out the local museum exhibit, and get lost wandering around a new part of town. Setting aside time for leisure activities is a large part of what allows us to feel the positive impacts of vacation and travel (12).

Ultimately, regardless of whether it is a staycation or vacation, the key is to try and be mindful and in the moment. It can be tempting to count down the number of days we have left, or to feel pressure to document each moment so that we can share it on social media. The more we can resist these urges and focus on the present, the more likely it is that our vacation will end up being the experience we hoped for. Finally, planning our staycation or trip is a large part of the fun, so remember to enjoy this process too!


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


REFERENCES

1. Chen, C. C., & Petrick, J. F. (2013). Health and wellness benefits of travel experiences a literature review. Journal of Travel Research, 52, 709-719.

2. Strauss-Blasche, G., Ekmekcioglu, C., & Marktl, W. (2000). Does vacation enable recuperation? Changes in well-being associated with time away from work. Occupational Medicine, 50, 167-172.

3. Strauss‐Blasche, G., Reithofer, B., Schobersberger, W., Ekmekcioglu, C., & Wolfgang, M. (2005). Effect of vacation on health: moderating factors of vacation outcome. Journal of Travel Medicine,12, 94-101.

4. Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 936.

5. Westman, M., & Eden, D. (1997). Effects of a respite from work on burnout: vacation relief and fade-out. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 516.

6. Westman, M., & Etzion, D. (2001). The impact of vacation and job stress on burnout and absenteeism. Psychology & Health, 16, 595-606.

7. Gump, B. B., & Matthews, K. A. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 608-612.

8. Pearce, P. L. (2012). Relationships and the tourism experience: challenges for quality-of-life assessments. In Handbook of Tourism and Quality-of-Life Research (pp. 9-29). Springer Netherlands.

9. Durko, A. M., & Petrick, J. F. (2013). Family and Relationship Benefits of Travel Experiences A Literature Review.  Journal of Travel Research, 52, 720-730.

10. Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration. Clinical psychology review, 30, 890-905.

11. Zimmermann, J., & Neyer, F. J. (2013). Do we become a different person when hitting the road? Personality development of sojourners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 515.

12. de Bloom, J., Nawijn, J., Geurts, S., Kinnunen, U., & Korpela, K. (2016). Holiday travel, staycations, and subjective well-being. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1-16.