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This summer, cool your Summertime Sadness: Simple exercises to ease suffering, cope with challenges, and step “outside of thought” to enjoy summer

While we often associate summer with sunshine, beaches, and relaxation, this warm time of year can have its own unique set of challenges. Here are five typical summertime complaints, and exercises that you can do anywhere to help yourself move through challenges, heal, and grow.

Separate from Thought

Many of us have unwanted thoughts that seem to plague us. Challenging thoughts seem to hover over us like dark stormy clouds (think Eeyore). No matter how much positive thinking we practice, no matter how many yoga classes we attend, we just can’t seem to live in the present, or focus. These thoughts continue to build upon each other until we are affected, upset, and perhaps act out in some way.

The key to mindfulness practice is not to make challenging thoughts bad or wrong, but to notice them, and let them pass. From this simple (bubble) meditation, we can find great relief.

Activity 1: Thought Bubbles

With your bottle of bubbles nearby, get into the feeling that the challenging thoughts inspire. Feel the heaviness, the restriction and suffering. Take some deep, full breaths as you allow these thoughts to cycle past you, like cars on the street. Now imagine how you would be without those thoughts. How much lighter and happier would you feel? From this empowered place, pick up the bubble wand, and imagine that you are blowing the unwanted thoughts into the bubble. Watch the bubble blow away and say: “I feel lighter and at peace.” Keep repeating for each of the thoughts that are troubling you and until you feel a deep sense of relief.

This is also great for anxious kids. No bubbles? Imagining that you are blowing bubbles is just as effective.

Healing After Winter’s Trials

Summer is sometimes associated with healing. After the darker, colder months of winter, we tend to get out more in nature and feel the sun on our skin. It is during this time that we are more ready and more inspired to heal and be restored.

Perhaps you are healing after some difficult trials with your work, children, or partner; or your body is healing from illness. Whatever you are healing from and working through, embrace summer as a restorative time, and commit to really taking the time you need to process and heal.

Activity 2: Soothe Your Heart with Water

If you are near water this holiday, here is an activity inspired by the healer, Anthony Williams, for healing.

Sit near the water’s edge. Be sure your eyes are protected from the sun as you watch the waves trickle towards you, or as you watch the water move along its path. Listen to the sounds of the water. Breathe the air slowly and more and more deeply. Now, focus on that piece of your heart that needs healing. Continue to watch and listen to the water as you hold the thoughts and feel the emotions associated with what happened or what is in your heart. Imagine the water is moving in to cool and soothe your heart. As the water recedes or continues to move past, imagine that all the hurt is washing away. The water is washing away your pain, cleansing and healing you. Say aloud: “I am healing now.” Continue to watch and listen to the water for as long as it takes to find relief. Repeat if necessary.

This can be modified to work with rain or water from the faucet as you are running a bath.

Stop Postponing Enjoyment

Most of us are busy (no: very busy), and summer is no exception! Instead of really taking in the beauty of our moments, we are rushing to plan, get ready and organized for trips, and then while we are supposedly out enjoying ourselves, we find ourselves concentrating on the next step, and then the next, and then the next, etc. In my experience, women are especially prone to latching onto this tendency of postponing enjoyment. Contentment can seem like a kind of elusive frivolity to save for later because there is always something to do right now.

While it is not wrong to live like this (and many of us feel like there is no other choice), it is a very stressful and often a painful way of experiencing life. With our nervous systems working overtime, we can become restless, unfulfilled, irritable, snippy, or sad as a result.

Activity 3: Curiouser and Curiouser

To shift out of this, consider a way to bring five minutes of presence to your days this summer with an exercise into curiosity.

Sit outside or go on a slow walk. Take in the weather, the sky. Find a tree and listen to its leaves flicker in the breeze. Really look at a flower, and take it all in: the colours, shapes, smells, and character. Notice the bees buzzing from flower to flower. Hear the birds. Lose yourself in the perfection of nature; the rhythm of nature; the effortlessness of nature. Being curious about nature, and becoming very quiet and focused, is sure to restore a sense of gratitude, peace, contentment, and trust in the world.

This can also be adapted to do indoors by focusing on your interior surroundings, if necessary.

Change Family Dynamics

Like many holidays, families spending a lot of time together—sometimes in cozy quarters—can lead to disagreements, personality clashes, and general unhealthy patterns of behaviour. Injuries, sunburns, insect bites, and other issues that are difficult to deal with away from home can compound with these to make for an unpleasant summer holiday experience.

Activity 4: What I Love About You

Sit down with a notebook and write down ten positive things about each family member that you are having issues with. What are they good at? What do you most love and value most about them? Write it all out. Notice how you feel afterwards. To go further, imagine yourself as them. How would you be? Ask: “How would I feel?” and then journal about this. Is there another way you can approach this person that would have a better outcome? Is it better you do nothing at all? If needed, write down at least 10 positive things about the family member each day until the issues are resolved or it is no longer required.

For a more visual exercise, try doing this activity with family pictures, and create art with the images by collaging them into your book.

It’s never OK for anyone, let alone family members, to hurt us intentionally. The above exercise focuses on the good in the others, and is an exploration into empathy, yet you are still entitled to stand up for yourself and to set boundaries.

The Magic of Boredom

Boredom is a good thing, especially for kids, because it teaches us to get creative and allows for the time to act on creative ideas. Some of my most magical memories from childhood are when we worked on creative projects together as a family (and I’m not talking about painting the bathroom or building new shelves)!

When we play with our artistic sensibilities and act on spontaneous whims in the process of creation—especially together with the people that are most important to us—we start to change the dynamics, or draw to us some needed (yet unexpected) new energy. Create new sparks, build upon more good memories, and get totally creative and wacky with an art project of your choice.

Activity 5: Summer Art Project

Research and plan a fun and playful project to complete this summer with family and/or friends. Make the necessary arrangements and preparations (purchase materials, plan a day, etc.), then carry it out!

Some ideas include making kites; painting a mural on your summer cabin’s shed; making a mosaic of tiles or painting large, smooth stones to decorate the garden with; dressing up and having a “Mad-Hatters” tea party in your backyard…

Sometimes, when we create, we become very vulnerable. We want this to be an experience that builds everyone up. It’s a good idea to set some ground rules about how to behave and treat one another so that everyone feels validated and safe. Be sure that participants only say positive and encouraging things about other’s work. Divide up the project so that everyone has an important part.

Go, Play, and Simply Be

Consider bringing more stillness into your days this summer. Be playful and creative, and simply enjoy being you. Sending you my warmest thoughts for the season. Go, play, and be!

Janine is an art therapist and clinical counsellor in Vancouver, BC. She sees clients privately in person and online, and conducts classes and workshops on creativity, healing, and hope. www.artforchange.ca info@artforchange.ca 778-928-0741