By Anne Marie Chaker
Sept. 5, 2023
The turn to September can bring an abrupt end to the barefoot bliss that comes with the Zen of summer. It doesn’t have to.
Zia Hassan is a 38-year-old education professor and career coach in Silver Spring, Md. This summer, he attended big family reunions, enjoyed evening hot tub dips and taught his son, Dezi, 5, to make lemonade.
In the past two weeks, Hassan’s coaching clients have re-emerged, eager for appointments. He’s also trying to revamp his teaching curricula on the fly and has been scouring where to buy a Spider-Man backpack for Dezi, who started kindergarten Monday.
“Everyone’s always rushing at the end,” says Hassan.
September can feel like the beginning of a new year. Parents scrub out last year’s lunchboxes, write soccer schedules into the calendar and reorganize the Tupperware drawer while wondering where the lids went.
A third of U.S. adults said they felt this summer was the first normal one in a few years, according to a survey of more than 4,000 people by CivicScience, a consumer-research firm. That’s feeding the wistfulness many people feel right now as they shift away from a rest-and-relaxation mind-set.
Rather than bemoan the end of summer, however, psychologists and life coaches advise pondering what it is, exactly, that you will miss. That requires self-reflection: Dig deep and ask yourself what particular summer experiences bring the most joy, says Los Angeles psychologist Jenny Taitz.
“Maybe it’s putting work down in the evenings or spending more time with loved ones,” she says.
Taitz advises adding those elements—which we associate with summer—more thoughtfully into your everyday routine. Physical reminders, such as a framed picture of a beach moment with the family, can be a cue to call them. A book left on the nightstand can be a reminder to make time to read.
“Use it almost as a resolution of sorts,” she says.
Nicole Weissman enjoys the bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables from a local farmstand.
“I have eaten my weight in peaches this summer,” says the director of communications at the National Association of Counties in Washington, D.C. She also enjoyed attending a Barenaked Ladies concert.
Recollection of the bleakest months of the pandemic came in sharp contrast to the feeling of summer joy and abandon at the concert. “I remember standing there…and having these tears well up in my eyes” recalling those tough 2020 times, she says.
Weissman says this summer she’s felt profound gratitude and is determined to continue enjoying good food, friends and music. Peaches and plums at farmstands will give way to apples, turnips and carrots, and Weissman intends to try new recipes with different ingredients.
She envisions inviting people over for chili nights. Instead of outdoor concerts, music gatherings can be with friends who share their favorite playlists and create new ones together.
“There’s a way to capture the ease and spontaneity of summer all year-round,” she says. “It’s a little harder, takes more creativity,” she says.
As the days shorten, some people start to feel autumn anxiety creep in. Seasonal-affective disorder affects 5% of U.S. adults who experience depressive symptoms with the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight. But it can start even when it’s still technically summer, psychologists say.
“They start to anticipate their symptoms about now,” says University of Vermont psychology professor Kelly Rohan, who has observed hundreds of patients beginning to notice the shortening of days and cooling temperatures. “People with winter depression are really in tune to some of those cues.”
One good short-term way to combat feeling blue can be light therapy, which is timed exposure to specific wavelengths using a light box, Rohan says. Longer-term benefits come from cognitive-behavioral therapy treatments, such as journaling exercises and committing to engage in winter activities that give a person pleasure, whether it’s snowshoeing or movie nights with friends.
Sarah Korf, a 43-year-old mother of two and management consultant in Elmhurst, Ill., likes to remind herself of the pros and cons of unscheduled summer serendipity.
It’s been lovely to spend more time with her teens, but their jobs as golf caddies came with last-minute requests for car rides and adjustments to the family schedule. It’s helping her look forward to having Brandon, 13, and Kaitlyn, 15, out of the house and back in school.
“I appreciate the whimsical nature of summer for a little bit,” she says. “But I long for the structure of what school brings.”
There’s value in embracing nature, according to psychologists and researchers, despite the coming drop in temperatures.
Time spent in nature, for even just a few minutes a day, can have positive effects. A 2019 study of 20,000 participants found that it takes at least two hours a week in nature to improve our health and well-being.
Hassan, of Silver Spring, Md., intends on hiking a 4.2-mile trail near his house, surrounded by forests and a stream, that he hasn’t gotten around to yet. This fall will be different. He vows to go walking on that trail a little bit every day.
“Coming into the fall, one thing I know I want to do is to take advantage of that golden moment that happens when summer ends,” he says. “The trees start to change; it gets a touch cooler.”
Write to Anne Marie Chaker at Anne-Marie.Chaker@wsj.com
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