It starts just before Labor Day. The end of summer blues is a common affliction. I see it in my office, I hear about it from friends and, in the spirit of full transparency, Labor Day is more bitter than sweet for me. Transitions are hard and the end of summer can be particularly difficult for a number of reasons.
On a symbolic level, the end of summer signifies the end of fun for many people. No more carefree summer days, no more summer Fridays at work, and no bonfires or barbecues to look forward to. Even for people who don’t have kids, the “back to school” mindset can awaken anxieties from long ago about returning to school. The change in temperature and light also play a role. Days are getting cooler and shorter, and for those sensitive to light, this can contribute to malaise.
The good news is that there is a remedy:
1. Reframe It
Think differently and redirect those negative or untrue thoughts into more positive ones. In other words, instead of thinking about missing the fun aspects of summer and dreading the bad things in the fall, embrace the great activities that come with autumn. Like #2 and #3 on this list. Cognitive reframing is a core part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and is an effective treatment for anxiety and depression.
2. Look Forward
To apple picking, hot chocolate, wearing cozy sweaters, reading by the fire, going for long walks in the park and not dying of the heat, and gallery openings and new movies. And the holidays are just around the corner.
3. Plan a Trip
Research shows that anticipation is often the most enjoyable part of an activity. According to a new study, just thinking about a trip you plan to go on boosts happiness. What’s it going to be this year? Ski or sun?
4. Embrace the Opportunity
Rather than falling back into old habits, create new ones that reduce stress. For example, if you dread going back to the gym instead of exercising outdoors now that the summer is over, create a new routine of exercising in the park.
5. Let Autumn be Summer
Give yourself permission to take your summer mindset into September and beyond. Continue to have fun, to eat fresh produce from the farmer’s market, to read trashy novels, to spend time outdoors, to go for walks after dinner and long bike rides on weekends.
6. Reset Priorities
If you are a leader in an organization, take the opportunity of returning from vacation to build focus. Instead of catching up on emails and voicemails, Peter Bregman at Harvard Business Review says it’s the ideal time to realign priorities:
Coming back from vacation is one of those opportunities. You’ve gotten some space from the day to day. People haven’t heard from you in a while. Maybe they’ve been on vacation too. They’re waiting. They’re more influenceable than usual.
Don’t squander this opportunity by trying to efficiently wrangle your own inbox and to-do list. Before responding to a single email, consider a few questions:
What’s your top imperative for the organization right now? What will make the most difference to the company’s results? What behaviors do you need to encourage if you are going to meet your objectives? And, perhaps most importantly, what’s less important?
Fall is never as bad as we think it’s going to be. In fact, it might just be awesome. It’s all in how we spin it.
In the words of Henry David Thoreau:
“Always maintain a kind of summer even in the middle of winter.”