The series “Summer Living” offers helpful tips and inspiring stories for making the most out of the all-too-short season.

It’s been a year to remember, but also one we might like to forget. As we edge back into the world and toward one another, many of us feel like we’re stumbling out of low-security prison into daylight. We’re out of practice with this thing called normal living. But it’s summer, with more space for relaxation and contemplation, so there’s never been a better time to work on ourselves!

Summer doesn’t last forever, though. You have two or three months at most ahead of you before we’re all supposed to put the summer whites away and be business as usual. So, we want you to put this time to the best use you can. Carpe diem! Seize the day! Here are some ways to make the most of reenergizing yourself this summer and reacquainting yourself with, well, yourself, one another, and the world.

1. Take short vacations

“Less is more” is a key credo this summer for psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert despite the title of his book, Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. When we’re recovering from such profound abnormality, now is not the time for a huge vacation, he says. “Not only is that expensive, it takes a lot of time, energy, and stress to plan it. Then it takes you a few days on the trip to get out of work mode, and a couple of days before it ends you’re thinking about work again.” So, you’re wasting half the trip with anxieties about work. What’s the fun in that?

picnic with friends

“What’s better is to take long weekends,” he recommends. “It takes less mental energy, costs less, and you’re not stressed by missing work for so long.” You don’t get disoriented or behind. Plus, it’s safer, considering the varying COVID situations on the road and abroad.

2. Disconnect from social media

While platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram give us a sense of community, they also have the drawback of being intensely competitive when people post lavish trips and vacation spots. “They create keep-up-with-the-Joneses feelings,” Jonathan says. “Don’t let social media influence where you go for vacation. Just disconnect and base your decisions on your own research and discussions with your significant other.”

Then when you’re on vacation, the pressure to report your experiences to social media in real time can also take you out of the experience itself. Don’t curate your vacation. “The more time you spend on social media, the more you miss what’s right in front of you,” Jonathan says. Your fear of missing out, or FOMO as the kids call it, should be over a real beach, not a photo of one.

3. Get back to nature

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One way to replace that tech overstimulation is through immersion in the natural world. “It’s summer, so anything you can do to get outdoors and be around flowers and plants is a great move,” says certified health educator and registered yoga teacher Brielle Merchant, MHA

The following three suggestions are all activities Brielle recommends that you do out in nature.

4. Grounding

This involves getting down and dirty with Mother Earth.  “You lie down, take your shoes off, and put your feet on the ground with your arms and legs out,” Brielle explains. “It reduces stress and feelings of anxiety and depression, lifting your mood. It can also improve your sleep, and help you be more present in your everyday life.”

5. Journaling

“Making daily entries in a diary outdoors is a great way to gain clarity and understanding,” Brielle says. Parks are a perfect place to do this, she notes. “They’re beautiful, normally quiet, and they often have water fountains and gazebos you can sit under.”

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6. Coloring, drawing, painting

Any of these practiced out in the beauty of nature will lower your stress and anxiety and improve your mood and sleep quality, says Brielle. “They also improve your focus and patience. Plus, they’re great ways to improve our motor skills.” For those of us who aren’t particularly gifted in art, Brielle recommends adult coloring books, so look for them at your local art store.

7. Meditation or yoga

Listen to the audio of a meditation you like when you’re out in nature. It gives you a double dose of serenity: one from the meditation, one from the location. The same goes for yoga outdoors. “Yoga is especially great, because it also helps you improve your balance and increases your strength,” Brielle explains.

8. Cook and eat plant-based foods

In addition to being out in nature, it’s a great time to put some nature in you, Brielle advises. If possible, purchase vegetables, fruits and beans from your local farmers market. Even if you only have access to grocery stores, summer is the perfect time to explore new produce or cook it in a new way. “Plant-based foods improve your mood, energize you, and reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.” They also give you new ways to stay hydrated in summer, Brielle adds. “Just add plant-based foods like mint or blueberries to your water to make it more interesting. It’s far healthier than sugary sodas.“

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9. Reconnect

Last but not least, summer is the perfect time for reunions with loved ones and friends the pandemic cut you off from. “Start a new family tradition,” Jonathan recommends. “Go hiking, hit the beach, visit a new city together, and if you all love it, make it a point to do it regularly.” And if you’re a couple, finally liberated into the world, it’s the perfect opportunity to work on your relationship. “Just getting away from work is a start, and relaxation enhances romance,” Jonathan says. “You can just focus on one another.”

The healthier the thing is that you do together, the better, says Brielle. “Science shows that any good habit you’re trying to develop, if you do it with a loved one or friend who can keep you accountable, it really increases your chances of not just adhering to it, but establishing it as a long-term lifestyle choice.”

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Mark Teich is a veteran magazine journalist who specializes in health, medicine, psychology and fitness. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines, including Psychology Today, OMNI, and Harper’s Bazaar. He has a bachelor's degree in English literature from UCLA and a master's in fine arts from Columbia University.

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