It’s summer! Time for barbecues! And swim parties! And lazy afternoons spent basking in the sun!
Summertime is fun time!
Here’s the thing about the summer, though. Routines get upended. Kids aren’t in school and may be away from home for several weeks (or even several months). Work schedules become lighter or more flexible. Families often go away on vacation, sometimes for long periods of time.
And with disruptions in routine comes anxiety. All of a sudden, we don’t have control over every minute of our day. We can’t predict what tomorrow will bring, and therefore can’t prepare for it. So many of my mom patients feel out of control over the summer and have difficulty managing their anxiety as a result.
Here are some CBT strategies for managing summertime anxiety that I share with patients:
Establish a routine when you can
Whenever possible, create a routine for yourself. It can be very anxiety-provoking to wake up in the morning and look forward to a completely unstructured day. Try setting a schedule for yourself each night before bed. It doesn’t have to be an hour-by-hour schedule, but it should provide you with enough structure so that you feel like you have a plan for the next day.
Be willing to take a vacation from control
It may help to think of your summer break as a “vacation from control.” It is very easy to control every aspect of your life (and your partner’s and kids’ lives) when everyone in your family is at work/school. But as soon as school and work schedules are disrupted, daily activities, meals, and bedtimes can become harder to negotiate.
While it is important to establish a routine (see above), it’s also important to give yourself a break and not expect yourself to be able to control every aspect of your day. You may need to relax your standards (check out a recent piece I wrote about this). You may need to accept that you or your kids won’t be as productive as you might like or eat or sleep as well as you might like.
Do not pressure yourself to have the best summer ever!
A few summers ago, a friend of a friend planned out every day of the entire summer for herself and her kids and their friends, complete with “passports,” itineraries, costumes, and props. There were field trips and picnics and a blog to document it all.
This was awesome, and also a little bit bonkers. Most moms who try to put together a summer like this will end up in a Pinterest-induced coma.
Bottom line: It is ok if your kids spend entire days just running through your backyard sprinklers. You do not need to entertain them 24-7.
Take care of yourself!
With kids out of school, some moms (especially those who stay at home) end up spending substantially more time with their kids than they do during the school year. All of this kid time can be mind-numbing and exhausting. As I often tell my patients, the more time you spend with your kids, the more critical it is to carve out some time for yourself. This might mean binge watching a TV show at night or dragging your kids to a manicure/pedicure. Perhaps there’s a college-aged kid in your neighborhood who is home for the summer and can watch your kids for an hour each day so you can get a break? You need to be as diligent about planning breaks for yourself as you are about planning activities for your kids.
And finally, a special note about having kids in sleepaway camp:
Ok, I admit: the idea of having several weeks off from active parenting sounds extremely attractive to me. But my patients with kids in summer camp often struggle. They miss their kids, and they also miss the routines that come with their kids. All of a sudden, their to-do lists shrink and they find themselves with lots of time on their hands. Which creates fertile ground for anxiety.
If you’re one of these moms, establishing a daily routine is critical. Perhaps you can get involved in a volunteer project or pursue a hobby for a few weeks. Or, if you work, maybe you can pursue a side project that you wouldn’t otherwise have time for? It’s important to fill the open time with pleasurable and/or productive activities. The last thing you need is many empty hours to devote to worrying about how your kids are doing.
I hope you’ll find these strategies helpful for managing summertime anxiety. And I hope you have a fantastic summer!