Ah, summer. It’s the time of year when the smells of backyard barbecues, sunscreen and citronella combine seamlessly in the hot Texas air. On your evening walk to the mailbox you're able to hear kids playing, cicadas chirping and lawn mowers in the distance. If you’re an adult, you may pleasantly reminisce to those days of summer when you didn’t have a care in the world and you spent your days out on amazing adventures which brought you home, miraculously, just in time for dinner. Millennial adults remember the hours spent roaming movie theaters, three-way calling and imagining what kind of housemate you’d be if you made it on Road Rules or The Real World (or is that just me?). It was a simpler time back then. Relaxing. Carefree.
What we often forget, however, is that summer is a time of transition. It is a time when both parents and their children experience a loss of structure, which can end up being challenging for everyone involved. It is important to keep in mind that for most young people, this structure is really about their social life. School provides ample opportunity for connection. Without it, some teens might become anxious about how they are going to continue those relationships throughout the summer. Add to that the pressure of making the team, staying on top of their college preparations, getting ready to move to a new school, feeling self-conscious about “swim suit season” and finally, having their parents remind them that summer is about having fun and relaxing! This is all but relaxing, especially for a teen experiencing anxiety or depression.
These teens might need some extra help during the summer months. In order to keep your cool during connection attempts with your child, here are some ways this new lack of structure might affect them as a person with anxiety and depression:
School provides opportunities for young people to build connections and relationships (ultimately building support), contribute to the well-being of others, practice social skills, and check in on how they view themselves against a more realistic barometer. Teens with anxiety or depression may isolate themselves to feel safer, but this approach can actually make negative feelings worse.
2. Free Time
With anxiety and depression, your teen might experience avoidance and lack of motivation. Depression feeds off of free time, and free time reinforces the distorted belief that they have no purpose or value because they are not able to self-motivate. Feeling like they have not accomplished something can stir up guilt, shame, frustration and anger. Finding an activity for them can help structure their time, while also allowing them to explore something they feel passionate about – ultimately increasing their sense of self-worth.
3. Lack of Stimulation
During the year, school allows teens to focus on productive activities. It gives them natural opportunities to push away negative thoughts and feelings, because there is other work that requires their focus and attention. This stimulation has the potential to keep depression at bay. When summer comes along and there isn't a school schedule to follow it is easy for teens to lose focus and experience a lack of stimulation, which can lead to increased anxiety and depression.
Considering all the benefits that school provides for students with depression, teens and parents should look to carefully plan the summer so that the rug doesn't get pulled out from under them. Here are some natural and inexpensive ways to replicate the benefits of school:
Have a Schedule – create a to-do list, even if it seems minor.
Daily Physical Activity – It fills time, improves mood and is an opportunity to accomplish something and/or nurture social relationships.
Employment / Volunteer Work – An effective tool against depression is helping others. Employment or volunteering opportunities can provide structure, stimulation and social interaction.
Strengthen Existing Commitments – Whether through club sports, faith communities or additional learning, teens can find purpose when engaging with their community.
Stay Focused on Academics – While a reprieve from the pressures of school are necessary, keeping up with academics is beneficial for some. It can also ease their transition into the next school year.
Leisure - Ideally, leisure time is given the same priority as the items listed above and is mainly social. This allows teens to take time for themselves and blow off steam by participating in activities they enjoy, with people they enjoy. * Remember that these are activities of their own choosing, and not something that you hope they will enjoy.
Down Time is IMPORTANT! – There is such a thing as TOO MUCH activity. Filling every minute of the day with activities is exhausting and might even decrease their self-esteem. Regardless of age, it is important for everyone to have time to unwind and be alone, as long as it’s only one part of many.
A thoughtful and well planned summer can not only help those with depression and anxiety by avoiding certain stressors, but it could also help them make gains in managing their illness!