Summer break is a joyous time. No students, no schedule, no papers to grade, and endless amounts of time loafing about in pajamas. After 180 days of teaching, countless meetings, unending emails, and trying to make heads or tails out of teenagers, it is well-deserved. I love having my alone time and could easily veg out and watch A&E and TLC all day. However, for someone like me who is susceptible to melancholy and ennui (and sometimes flat-out depression), lying on the couch staring at the ceiling is not necessarily a good thing. After having gotten to know myself for a while now, I’ve come up with some strategies that keep me happy and healthy until school starts back up in a couple of months.
1. Eat breakfast. This is a no-brainer. Everyone is told to eat the most important meal of the day, and there’s a reason for it. It works. For me it levels out my blood sugar, elevates my mood, and keeps me full most of the day. I’m not talking about grabbing a breakfast bar on your way out the door in the morning to be inhaled in the car. I’m talking about taking the time to sit down and eat a meal. Mine consists of oatmeal with dried cranberries (or diced apple), walnuts, and cinnamon, a glass of OJ, and a cup of coffee.
2. Fish oil. Fish oil has many benefits from making your skin and hair look nice to aiding a healthy heart. It also has the benefit of stabilizing mood and alleviating symptoms of depression.
3. Work out. I once read that the best type of exercise out there was the one that you would actually do. Going to the gym is a hassle to me. Getting cleaned up to go somewhere else to work out and then come home to get cleaned up again (cleaning up around strangers doesn’t appeal to me) doesn’t make any sense. Instead every morning my living room becomes my home gym as I pop in a workout video and work out for an hour. I don’t have to worry about being in anyone else’s space, share equipment, or wait my turn. Plus, with a multitude of videos, I can choose which workout “class” I want and when I want it. Today it was yoga and strength. Tomorrow it will be cardio and strength. The benefit of working out is huge. I feel better about myself and proud that I can hold balance poses and do plank push-ups. Feeling strong gives me mental and psychological strength. Being strong has provided other benefits, too, such as when one of my male students, for who knows why, decided to play tough-guy and flex his bicep at me (he wasn’t being playful). I walked up to him, pulled up my sleeve, flexed mine as he said, “Holy crap!” I didn’t have a problem with him after that.
4. Go outside and go for a walk. After working out and eating breakfast, I will head out for my walk. I have two routes: a two-miler and a four-miler. If I am short on time, I walk two miles, but almost always it’s four. Nothing clears my head better than a walk. I can say helllo to the neighboors, see what people are doing to their yards, and feel the sun on my skin. For an added bonus and extra geekiness, I also use walking poles. They cause people to give me funny looks (although today a woman with a cane really wanted to know if they helped me walk better), but they scare away dogs and little children. Using walking poles improves posture, works the arms, and burns more calories– and if I’m going to be out there for an hour, I want to get the most out of it. An unexpected result of using them is the killer ab workout they provide, and any ab work I can do that is not a crunchie is freaking awesome in my book. They also provide a great way to relieve tension since I can whack the ground with them.
5. Read. Can the benefits of reading be overstated? I think not. I belong to three book clubs, and this gives reading new purpose. I pay closer attention to what I read and develop more opinions about the topic. A variety of genres appeal to me, but my favorites are histories, biographies and memoirs about people overcoming great odds and danger. My favorite book in this category is The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. Books like these help me put my own life into perspective.
6. Blog/Write. For the last few months as a blogger, my anxiety has gone down a lot. Although blogging can bring about new and unexpected forms of anxiety, it forces me to focus on the positive and allows me to process my day. Blogging has introduced me to a wide variety of funny, inspiring, and talented people.
7. Learn something new. If you have a ton of time on your hands, why not learn something new? When else are you going to learn it? Plus, you may develop a new hobby and meet new people.
8. Plan something. Planning is fun. It means that something is going to happen in the future and right now you can work towards that outcome. Next fall I will teach U.S. History for the first time, so this summer I will plan my course and implement new strategies that I haven’t been able to try in my English class. But planning doesn’t have to be work related, you can plan what you’re going to build next, what new piece of music you want to learn, or plan a trip. Which brings me to my next point…
9. Go somewhere. Planning a trip is the best kind of planning (to me) and nothing lifts the spirits more than getting away. It doesn’t have to be far away, but just a change of scenery. Traveling challenges you and you learn new things about people, places, and culture. Sometimes if you feel down in the dumps, the best way to feel better is to leave the dump.
10. Hang out with friends. Good friends aren’t going to let you feel sad and mopey. They’re going to make you laugh, get you out of the house, and have a good time. Everyone knows that one of the most important things to good mental well-being is having a strong social network, whether it be two friends or two hundred.
11. Sleep. As much as I don’t like my regimented schedule when I teach (lights out at 9, wake up at 3:45), keeping a standard sleep schedule is so important for my mental health. In the summer I fall asleep at 10 and wake up around 6. By following this schedule, I get enough sleep and don’t lounge around in bed all day. Getting up at 6 allows me to work out and walk while the weather is still cool, and I still have the rest of the day ahead of me. I also try to get a nap in everyday. Nothing beats a good nap. Being well-rested helps keeps the doldrums away.
These are the things I do to stay positive in the summer months. What do you do to keep your spirits up?