To most, the thought of summer’s arrival comes with a smile and thoughts about long care-free days, more time spent outside, or perhaps family vacations. But what we often fail to remember is that summer can present a significant time of transition as schedules shift dramatically, especially for children and adolescents who get a long break from school. The transition to summer can cause a high degree of stress for many, despite summer seeming like it should be a lower stress time. In 1967, two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, were interested in studying life events that created stress for humans. They conducted research that resulted in the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which ranked stressful life events in “life change units”. The top of the list at 100 life change units is the death of a spouse. 7th from the top is marriage, with a LCU (life change units) rating of 50. But “beginning or end of school” ranks at a 26, even above things like change in residence or trouble with boss, which most clearly see as stressful life events.
Why can the transition to summer be a stressful time?
1) Change in routine. Humans are creatures of habit. We get used to our daily routines and depend on them. Routine can also be closely tied to our sense of purpose such as school for children or work for adults. Or it may be tied to our values, for example the 10am spin class you can take when children are in school that fulfills your need for fitness.
2) Lack of structure. Many children and adults, especially those seen in clinical settings, can be highly dependent on structure. Like routine, structure reduces uncertainty, gives a sense of limits and boundaries, and gives an order to our lives. Although many youth complain about school, the structure that school provides can make the days pass more quickly. The limitlessness of unstructured summer days can create boredom. The anticipation or experiencing of this boredom can lead to stress.
3) Reduction in socializing. Although many youth dream of summer days being full of fun with friends or adults imagine time off of work with family and friends, the amount of social contact can go down for many people during the summer. Time away from school or jobs often means less rather than more social contact.
What can we do to manage the stress?
1) Validate. Don’t just shrug it off. Holmes and Rahe didn’t and neither should you. Recognizing the potential for stress and being more understanding of spouses, children, and ourselves is really important at this time.
2) Breathe. Pause and remember this transition state is temporary. Be kind and patient with yourself and others; the transition will be over once you become accustomed to the change.
3) Plan activities. From ongoing activities like camps, teams or lessons, to day-long outings or repeated friend time, planning activities adds structure back into summer days. For adults, plan dates with significant others and friends, spend time outdoors to take advantages of longer days and warmer weather, and treat yourself to cultural events that you might enjoy.
4) Take care of yourself. Transitions are a really important time to remember self-care. Get extra sleep, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, eat healthy nutrient-rich meals and snacks, and give yourself extra time to do things to minimize the stress of rushing.