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How & Why It’s Important To Prioritize Your Mental Health In The Summer, According To Experts

School’s out, summer’s here, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you can stop prioritizing your mental health. While pressure from classes lifts up, other stressors — like work, camp, travel, or the gaping boredom of nothing to do — may still be around. Like physical health, mental health takes regular awareness to maintain, and many good physical health habits can boost your mental health as well. 

To learn more about strategies for maintaining strong mental health over the summer months, I talked to mental health experts Dr. Kerry McBroome and Dr. Ralph Waldo about the best practices people can take to ensure their health doesn’t take a back seat. 

Stick to a Routine.

Their biggest piece of advice? Routine, routine, routine. “There’s a lack of structure to the summer months that make healthy habits harder to stick to,” said Dr. McBroome. “Start small by picking one thing to do a day to improve your mental health, and then do that activity at the same time each day.” Even if you’re not working or going to a regular summer program, a regular sleep-wake schedule is important too. “Having a regular wake-up time, meal times, and bed time helps keep your circadian rhythm steady and prevents mood changes from disrupted sleep-wake cycles,” Dr. Waldo explained. 

Linked to routine is regular exercise. “Exercise releases endorphins that improve your mood and act as natural antidepressants. Even light activity like gardening or walking the dog can help,” Dr. Waldo said. And getting in that exercise outside is doubly beneficial, since “too much TV, phone, and computer use is linked to depressed mood.” Dr. Waldo advised, “Get outside daily and expose yourself to natural light which helps regulate your circadian rhythm and mood.” 

Stay Connected.

Summer also means that you may no longer be in the same physical location as your friends, whether that’s due to travel or leaving a shared campus. Still, making an effort to stay connected and maintain your friendships is a vital way to keep up with your mental health.

“Being vulnerable with each other is how we build friendship and connection,” Dr. McBroome said. “Talk to the people you trust about how you’re struggling with your mental health this time of year. Allow yourself access to solidarity and support, because you’re not the only one feeling this way.”

Dr. Waldo recommends scheduling time if possible “so you have things to look forward to,” whether it’s a phone call or meeting up in person with a friend. 

Practice Self-Care.

Finally, don’t forget to practice self-care beyond the traditional health things. “Seasonal changes, particularly in temperature, can bring major mood shifts and worsen stress and anxiety,” Dr. McBroome warned. “FOMO can get worse too as we feel pressure to enjoy every second of every sunny day. Release that pressure on yourself, and let go of any guilt or judgment around summer not living up to your expectations. Giving your body the rest it needs is nothing to feel guilty about.” 

Whatever you spend your summer doing, don’t forget to give yourself time to rest. From beach naps to couch hangouts, don’t feel bad about taking the time to do nothing. And if you want to do something, make it something you enjoy. “Make time for hobbies, art, music, journaling, or whatever you find meaningful and rejuvenating,” Dr. Waldo said. “Staying engaged and following your passions will boost your wellbeing. Maintaining good sleep, nutrition, and limiting alcohol/caffeine are also important.” 

So there you have it — from healthy habits to releasing expectations and taking time for rest, don’t forget to prioritize your mental health this summer, wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing. 

Katheryn Prather is a Her Campus national writer for the Wellness section, with particular interest in mental health and LGBTQ+ issues. Katheryn is studying Creative Writing and Linguistics at Emory University and trying to get fluent in Spanish. Her obsession with all things language is found from her coursework to her writing, which spans from songs and short stories to full-blown fantasy novels. Beyond writing for herself, class, and Her Campus, Katheryn also serves on the executive board of Emory’s Voices of Inner Strength Gospel Choir, where she sings alto. In her free time, Katheryn can often be found writing and revising, reading, or being disappointed by the Dallas Cowboys.