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A Time to Be: Mental Health Memo for July





A Time to Be

 

About the Author: Dominic Alvernaz PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist at the Human Services Center (HSC) and serves as the staff psychologist for HSC’s adolescent programs.  In his spare time, he enjoys reading, sports, and spending time with his wife and two children.

 

Summer is here!  Longer days and warmer weather beckon us outside, away from the inactivity brought on by winter’s chill.  For many, summer represents a time of recreation and vacation, bringing a promise of fun and relaxation.  For me, it invokes childhood memories of farm work, swimming, eating outside, and getting together with friends.  While the summers of my youth fulfilled their promise of fun and relaxation, I have found the summers of adulthood increasingly stressful and this observation does not appear unique to me. 

 

 Everywhere I look, I see others with increasingly busy schedules, which threatens summer’s promised relaxation.  While a vacation sounds like a perfect solution, for those with children it can easily become another source of stress and exhaustion.  If this was not enough, modern life supplies us with constant distractions (such as social media, video streaming, and TV) which provide temporary relief from life’s stressors, but ultimately devour our time while leaving us feeling just as stressed and exhausted as we were before.  These factors and more seem to have conspired to turn what was once a season of joyful freedom into a heat-afflicted ordeal.

 

Although this paints a bleak picture of what summer has in store, a recent visit from my father reminded me of a secret to appreciating the joys of summer.  At the end of a four-day visit, during which the most exciting thing we did was take a walk, he expressed how nice it had been to visit with us and "just be."   While considering these words, I realized how rare it has become for me to slow down and simply be present.  Even when doing something "fun," my mind will often wander to one of life’s many stressors - my smartphone will come out, or the tv will be turned on, and I miss the opportunity to truly appreciate the moment.  As a result, I find myself rushing from chores to distractions, becoming increasingly exhausted, and wondering when I can get a vacation to recover from my last vacation.

 

Perhaps this difficulty does not resonate with you, but if it does, I would invite you to join me this summer in taking time to “just be.”  For some this may be easy, but for others it may be hard to even consider where to start.  Here are three ways we can practice slowing down and being present in the moment this summer.  

 

  • Be present in nature:  Summer brings out the world’s natural beauty, let’s take some time each day to stop and appreciate it.  This could be done in a park, a backyard, or even by a field.  When you can, just sit and focus on the details of the world around you, the color of the trees, the smell of the grass, the sound of the wind through the leaves.  If other thoughts or worries come to mind, that is okay, just notice those thoughts and refocus on observing your surroundings.

 

  • Be mindful of your food:  From ice cream to barbeque, summer brings many opportunities to eat delicious food.  Taking time to focus on what we eat can improve our enjoyment of each tasty dish.  When eating, first take a moment to notice how the food looks, then take a deep breath and focus on how it smells, finally take a small bite and chew slowly while focusing on the texture and taste.  This will maximize our ability to appreciate the flavor of our favorite foods.

 

  • Be present with loved ones:  Summer naturally lends itself to gathering with loved ones.  Unfortunately, the distractions of modern life can lead us to forget to slow down and truly appreciate those around us.  Take time this summer to turn off the electronics and spend time with those important in your life.  During this time, try to focus completely on those with whom you are spending time.  If you find yourself becoming distracted, notice this distraction and then return your focus to spending time with those around you.  This will help us fully appreciate the time we spend with others.

 

Summer is a season full of potential for life, laughter, and love.  Let’s slow down and appreciate what it has to offer.