Ah, summer. The season of barbecues on the back deck, long sunny days, afternoon swimming sessions.
And, kids bringing fat bugs into the house, teens rifling through the cupboards for snacks, sticky popsicle residue on the floor, shorts with grass stains, flip flops scattered across the deck, "Happy" playing (again) while the television is on, while the iPad is on, spontaneous sleepovers, and schedules changing so fast it feels like you're spinning around on a fair ride.
Yeah. That summer.
But there are a few strategies I'm employing -- beyond hitting every happy hour in the neighborhood -- to keep me from losing my mind this summer.
While the key to a stress-free summer may be the occasional margarita with your girlfriends, it also involves shifting your mindset and making the most of the change in routine.
Here are four ways to do it.
1. Follow the flow. If packing up the picnic and the cooler and the water toys and the Frisbee, and the towels, and the sunscreen, and the bug spray and everything else for an afternoon at the lake, feels hard and stressful today, pick something that doesn't. Change plans, changes ideas and go toward what feels good, comfortable, easy.
Often, obstacles, frustrations and negative emotions are there to show us what isn't working. They are a sign that we should regroup, adapt, and move toward something that feels better. Sometimes, turning on the sprinklers in the yard is better than packing up the gear and driving across town to a park. Go with the flow, move toward what feels right, adjust the plan, and whatever you decide to do for fun will actually be fun.
2. Reframe before you freak. When I contemplated my summer schedule, which includes juggling work with limited childcare and the needs of an active 8-year-old, I started to freak.
So, I took a couple of deep breaths and then I reframed the situation.
Instead of the "How am I going to get it all done?" panicked approach, I adopted the "I'm-fortunate I have the flexibility" view. Still the same situation, I'm just looking at it from another perspective -- one that feels better.
Friends of mine, who are working full time through the summer, have decided to keep their focus on their upcoming August vacation, instead of all the long hours they are putting in now to pay for it. Another woman I know, a business owner who regularly sees her revenues drop during the summer months when her clients tend to be out of the office, reframes what could be a stressful situation into one of opportunity by seeing the free time as a way to build her business. The open hours give her time to market, network and get organized.
There are a variety of ways to look at any one situation. Find the view the looks the best, put on the rose-colored glasses (don't worry this won't make you delusional, you'll still be able to see the weeds in the neighbor's yard and the pile of work on your desk) and take the perspective that eases stress and amps up good feeling.
3. Move into the light. Natural light can do wonders for a waning mood. Sunshine or even the glare on a cloudy day shuts down the body's production of melatonin -- the naturally occurring hormone which makes us sleepy -- and leaves us feeling more refreshed and energized. This, of course, makes it easier to cope with any potential craziness.
When you get up in the morning, open the blinds, or walk out on the porch for few minutes to soak up the light and you'll start to feel more alert. And, I, for one, need all the help I can get.
4. Savor the goodness. Finally, amid the chaos of changing routines and summer schedules, pausing to notice the good things in life can make everything more enjoyable.
After identifying the positives, take a moment to absorb the good feelings that arise -- wonder, peace, joy, curiosity, appreciation, love -- and you'll feel better, says Fred Bryant, Ph.D., and social psychologist at Loyola University.
Do this several times a day -- pause a minute or so to notice the pink of the geraniums, the tartness of a sip of lemonade, or a favorite song playing during your commute -- and even a stressful summer will become sweeter.