Like mice following the pied piper, the sun calls us out of homes and offices.
Summer is here! Last week, I caught myself sprinting towards the summer season, eyes closed, arms open, screaming, “Where have you been sun? Grass? Birds and flowers! Ahhhh so nice!”
The calendar is filling up with trips, weddings, and baseball games.
Whew… this week, I’m taking a break.
See, I caught myself about to make a very familiar mistake. Failing to plan for a new season of weather and how it changes my life. And based on some of the conversations I’ve been having with private 1-on-1 clients, it’s likely you might be walking right into the same sunny trap yourself.
As the Seasons Change, So Do Our Lives
There are seasons of weather, and for many of us there are four a year. In this same way, there’s seasons of life, like high school, college, marriage, and kids. There are also seasons of health, like commitment, progress, regression, and maintenance.
I bring this up because a wise mentor, PJ McClure, taught us this same lesson about business – that as the seasons change to summer, so do our lives, commitments and therefore… energy and focus.
This year, I’m planning for it from a business and financial standpoint, but I’m also taking into account my health. Over the last few years, I’ve just winged it; sometimes my health would be better or worse as summer burned on. My failure to define my health goals in light of summer has led to mental anguish over not making progress. In that same light, it can also bring improvements due to relaxing and finally getting outside on a regular basis.
This year, I almost made the mistake again, but I’m using this week to plan and think about what I want from my summer and how summer impacts my health regardless of my plans.
But what is it about summer that impacts our health?
The Health Challenges of Summer Months
I think we’re all busier in the summer. Stress is up and down, but so are our moods and emotions. It seems like summer includes higher highs and lower lows.
When you walk outside and the birds are chirping the sun is shining, it’s hard not to smile. And when you close the door after a long trip, the kids are going crazy, and you only had a few hours of sleep before work… well, the lows can be tough.
Here’s some common challenges summer presents, that other seasons don’t:
1. “Busyness” – It seems like in summer, there is always “something” – a social event, a house project, a kid’s day and it goes on and on. Busyness seems to creep into every area of our lives in summer. And when we don’t plan for it, and stop it… our stress levels rise exponentially.
2. Vacations – While totally needed, paradoxically there is a percentage of people who will immediately get sick on vacation. It can be because their suppressed immune system finally wakes up after the stress melts away to fight a chronic infection. Sometimes, they enter the vacation in such poor health that the new environment carries health risks that can easily penetrate their body and make them sick. I think the best thing to do is not worry about this but be aware of what your vacation might reveal about your health.
3. Kids and Family Routines – These are usually completely change compared to the winter months. Whether it’s new sports, no school, or outdoor activities, in general, the family routines change in the summer and sometimes these changes can be stressful and impact our health we’ve been working so hard on.
4. Social Food Conditioning – Hot Dogs, Ice cream and Nachos… what’s more Western than these foods at every summer activity you attend. Everyone eats them… everyone except us. But the issue is that we likely have memories of eating them. And when we go to the ballgame and remember that great day and the feeling we had eating ice cream, it can be overwhelming and “shoot our health in the foot.” Be on guard.
5. Cookouts and Parties – It’s summer, that means graduation parties, wedding receptions, block parties and neighborhood cookouts. And I can guarantee that anytime there is a large amount of food being prepared it’s not going to be the highest quality. And the social pressures of refusing the host’s food can be even higher. Staying strong and prepared is a must for these events, even just a few bites to appease the host can leave you stuck on the toilet.
6. Your Mentality – If you don’t create mental rules now, when you get to the party… good luck. You’ll be subject to your feelings from environmental cues and you’ll likely give in without even knowing it. Next, the judgments will come knocking. And it can lead to a vicious summer cycle of trying to fit in, violating your health values and then self-abuse for the choices. The key is to decide ahead of time. “Yes, I will cheat… “No, I won’t judge…” or “No, I won’t cheat for any reason and I’m doing it for me.” Get clear and create the rules ahead of time, otherwise the environment will rule you.
Okay, the above 6 bullets are the top ways summer can hurt our health. But recently, I polled our facebook community and it was almost unanimous that people feel better in the summer. So, let’s talk about the other side of the coin…
5 Ways Summer Benefits Our Health
I think most people instinctively know they feel better in the summer months. If summer is the busiest time of the year and maybe the most stressful, why do most people report improved health? I think it’s related to the following:
1. Sunshine – I don’t think anyone can deny that a sunny day is a happier day than an overcast day. Is it because of the vitamin D production (which is really like a hormone)? Or is it because of sulfur production? Or maybe all of the above? I don’t think it really matters… sun on the skin is divine. And summer is filled with it. Take advantage daily.
2. Mood – I notice that my moods are generally happier and more stable during the summer months. I don’t think there is a singular cause, but it’s likely related to more sun, more social events, and doing more hobbies. Your mood is mostly determined by your feelings. And if you’re continually in a happy state, whether from novel vacation trips, interactions with friends, seeing your kids happy or just feeling the sunshine on the face, it’s healing.
3. Get Out in Nature – In winter, much of nature is dormant, but in summer they are in full bloom with big leaves and plenty of smell. This may seem like a minor point but I don’t think it is. In this video I talk about the new research showing how being out in nature downregulates stress hormones, upregulates immune systems, and improves moods. Not to mention, that in general there are higher rates of obesity and heart disease in city dwellers. Is it due to lack of trees? Probably not solely, but don’t rule out the healing power of nature. Get into the woods and parks as often as you can during this time of the year.
4. Social Life – After a cold winter and a wet spring, when summer comes around people start venturing outside on a regular basis, which is good because, as we’ve talked about before, social interaction is important for your health. And in the summer, my experience has always been people are more willing to say “yes” to social invites. There are more people in the coffee shops, bars and malls, so even if you don’t have a great social group yet, there are plenty of people to go meet. Make it a priority this summer.
Steps to Create Your Healthiest Summer Yet
Each season provides us with unique challenges and opportunity. Summer is a great time of the year to improve your health and if not planned for can be a great time to lose the ground you’ve gained. Here are a few tips to maintaining or improving your health this summer:
1. Plan, Plan, Plan – There must be dates on your calendar already…. trips, weddings, parties and vacations. Do you have enough supplements for the travel? Do you have food planned out? Is there food in your freezer for the late night when you get home? Just going through checklists like this before each trip and doing the necessary planning will keep your stress level low and your health high. The old adage of “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail” is never truer than in summer.
2. Be Okay with Maintenance – Each of us goes through ebbs and flows of focus on getting healthier. And summer is just one of the seasons in which your attention might be elsewhere. Be okay with it. Let go of the need for progress if it feels right. And if it’s a time in which you can actually focus on your health and make up lost ground, then go all out. No compromises this summer.
3. Be Social – The act of being social means you say “yes” and seek opportunities to hang out with people. Don’t let your special diet, your exercise routine or your health challenges keep you from getting outside. If you say “No” on a regular basis you are choosing less health and loneliness. Any excuse you have for not being able to travel, hangout and eat out is addressed in our social life product.
4. Live By Rules – Many people think rules constrict your life – that they steal fun. However, this is a total myth. The right kind of rules create the ability to spontaneously travel, to not compromise in the face of peer pressure, and in the right situation, “let go” for a day. If you have rules… like always having quick foods on hand, knowing what you will or won’t cheat with or what quality of meat you eat. And you make a promise yourself to never compromise these rules, your confidence will be sky high, which I would argue leads to less stress and more happiness in the long run.
5. Have Fun! – Beyond all this, remember to have fun this summer. Choose to have more fun in your life. Whatever that means, whatever you have to do, go and get more fun out of each day.
Stick with these 5 easy steps on a weekly basis and look forward to a fun, happy and healthy summer.
How does summer change your life? And what do you do about it? Let me know in the comments below.