Spring is here. The thaw is in progress. The snow is gradually retreating from the peaks and melting its way into streams. Plant life is beginning to burst joyfully from the soil. And we humans are getting our first real taste of the intoxicating effects of brighter days.
With the promise of summer only a few weeks away, planning warm weather adventures is in full swing. It’s so exciting to feel the anticipation for all of these and experiences on the horizon.
The shifting of the season fills our spirits with renewed energy for life, but as with anything, we can have too much of a good thing. The burst of energy might have us overcommitting, overstressing, and setting ourselves up for a frazzled, frantic summer instead of a season where we thrive.
Yes, summer is precious. If we don’t make intentional plans, time can slip through our fingers and we can miss beautiful opportunities. On the other hand, swing the pendulum too far the other way, and we can end up in a state of self-inflicted guilt, anxiety, and burnout from trying to cram too much into our summers.
So, how do we get away from over-taxing our nervous systems and our bodies, and instead use the season to grow in a healthy, sustainable way? Before we bite off more than we can chew, it’s important to take a moment to step back before we get swept up into the urgency of more, more, more all season long.
Sometimes, just putting words to why we’re thinking and behaving a certain way is enough to pull us out of our emotional spin cycles and re-ground us. Let’s talk about a few sources of stress that can fuel the summer mania (camp)fire.
Time anxiety. Many of us might feel a heightened sense of what’s known as time anxiety. Basically, the concept of time anxiety is worrying that you’re not making the most of your time and/or that time is passing too quickly. In Alaska and other extreme latitudes, summer can feel like it passes in the blink of an eye. It’s not surprising that its brevity can lead to anxiety and pressure about spending those daylight hours in a way that feels like enough.
Pandemic pressure. The pandemic has stretched on long enough to impact our last two summers. While everyone’s individual experience through these two pandemic summers has been different, many of us may feel a sense of lost time. While that grief is normal, it can spur us into unrealistic expectations of somehow “making up” for the summers that can turn stressful.
Illness or injury. Maybe you’ve recently struggled with illness or injury, or are in the midst of it right now. When we’re used to a certain amount of movement, our bodies being unwell can be a major source of pressure and frustration. Much like the circumstances of the pandemic impacted our ability to participate in the things we love, sometimes our personal circumstances can do something similar.
The allure of the new. If you’ve recently moved to a new place, or if you’ve recently begun your journey as a lover of the outdoors, everything feels like it’s begging to be explored. The newness is so exciting–that’s great and normal! At the same time, your list of destinations and activities might feel overwhelming. Learning to balance that excitement with patience in the process takes time and intention.
Climate uncertainty. In many areas of the American West and beyond, wildfires are a looming threat all summer. It’s easy to worry that next year a beautiful area might be marred by a natural catastrophe. Concerns about the fragility of our habitat can easily send us into a fear-based mindset where we start stockpiling experiences as if they’re canned goods during a power outage. As with other areas of our life, a fear mentality doesn’t actually help us.
Whatever the constellation of reasons for your summer stress is, you can practice a variety of techniques to reset and re-ground. Consider these strategies as a place to start.
Create space for a wider range of activities. Making the most of summer doesn’t have to mean the biggest, baddest, most ambitious objectives. Enjoying the sunshine can mean having coffee with a friend on a patio, having a picnic with your family, or walking your dog for a little longer. These ways of spending your time are just as valuable and nourishing as an ambitious 20-mile day in the alpine. Don’t fall into the trap of only valuing certain activities as “legitimate” summer bucket list items. Instead, build a practice of noticing all the ways the delights of summer show up in your life.
Embrace JOMO. Instead of falling into the fear of missing out, flip the sentiment on its head and lean into the joy of missing out. Saying “no” creates wonderful things, too. Cultivate an attitude of abundance by reminding yourself of the wonder and delight you get to experience through how you do choose to spend your time.
Cultivate restful moments. If you live in a northern latitude like Alaska where the sun stays out past bedtime, an evening routine can help facilitate rest and recovery. Remember that you likely will need extra rest if you’re stretching your limits, and taking intentional time to recover can help you stay resilient through the season. Things like stretching and foam rolling, meditation and breathwork, soaking in an epsom salt bath, or even just a few minutes reading a book can help you bring your nervous system down into a recovery state even if it’s still light outside.
Make it personal. Take time to reflect on what’s realistic for the needs and capacity of your body, nervous system, and personal circumstances. How do you feel when you’re traveling every weekend? Is it energizing and rewarding, or grueling and exhausting? Consider your own personal capacity instead of what others are doing or how much you feel like you “should” be able to take on. Regularly check in with yourself to see if you’re truly excited about a plan, or if you’re acting from a place of scarcity or comparison with others.
Stick to a plan. Once you’ve been honest with yourself about a healthy, productive amount of commitment for you, it may help to be systematic and intentional with your plans. Prioritize the things that feel most important to you and your values. While being flexible and spontaneous can be joyful, it’s also important to honor your own boundaries and defend the time you need for other parts of your life.
Practice full presence in what you say “yes” to. By honoring our own needs, we create more space for being fully present where we are right now. Soak it all in and feel every joyful moment of all your summer plans to the fullest extent.
And remember, through this high-energy season, practice gentleness with yourself in all things. Cut yourself plenty of slack when things don’t go to plan, when you feel stressed, or when you wish you’d done something differently. It’s all a part of the process, and you are learning and growing right where you are.
What will you do this season to mindfully balance energy and excitement with rest and recovery?
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