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Summer Vacation and Depression

green flip flops floating in the swimming poolThe summer can be a very difficult time of the year for those with major depression or bipolar depression. The sun is welcoming, the weather is good, and people are out and about, or so it seems. There is a lot of pressure to be in a good mood. You are not “supposed” to be down at this time of year – it’s summertime! It may appear to you as though everyone else is off on a wonderful vacation trip, at the beach or the mountains or an exotic locale. In your mind they are relaxed, having a great time enjoying themselves and their friends and families. Smiling faces. Picnics. Fun! All you can see are empty streets in your hometown and wonder where all the people are. You see a group of bicyclists ride by and wonder how you can get the energy to even get off of the couch. Perhaps your co-workers or neighbors come back with glossed-over, inflated stories of their time off. If you believe them, it makes you feel bad and left out, unable to participate in the pleasures of life. The summertime may make you feel more alone than usual, especially if you do not make plans with friends or family. This sets up a vicious cycle of staying at home, isolated, which is not healthy.

But wait! Remember that you are viewing this through a distorted, depressed lens. Not everyone has plans to go away on a vacation trip just because it is July. Some people do go away, but it may not be heaven as you imagine. You do not know what family stressors accompany them on their trip, what difficulties they may have. You are not aware of their family arguments, cranky children, financial disagreements, or other illnesses they may have. And not everyone can afford to go away or has the good health to do so. Some might have to undergo chemotherapy in the summer, or attend to an elderly parent – you never know. Or maybe you do go away and decide that it is not enjoyable for some reason. Depression in the summer may make you feel as if you are the only one without good vacation fun, but the reality is that you are not alone in this.

The more important point is how you choose to respond to this time of year. Summer does come around every year, and that means you can plan in advance for something to do with your time off. It does not have to be a big thing – perhaps a day trip or two, or a long weekend visiting friends or family might be enough to change your mental scenery. But it requires planning in advance. Pick something that is simple and that brings you pleasure, not stress. Perhaps you have a favorite friend or relative to visit, a favorite hobby to pursue, or you want to learn something new. Do what brings you relaxation and will refresh you. Be fair to yourself and set your expectations to have a pleasant time – it does not have to be a top-of-the-world experience. Try not to make comparisons with how others spend their time off. Once your plans are made, follow through and stick to them even if you do not feel up to it. When the time comes, do not let yourself off the hook by saying you are too tired or down to go. Just do it. You will be surprised that you might still have a pleasant time with others even though you are feeling depressed. Doing this for yourself will raise your spirits and give you a sense of control over your life, and in this way improve your mood.

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