By Hattie Parish
Summertime brings warmer days, longer nights and that feel-good factor, so there’s no better time to tune into our self-care routines. This is how you can make the most of the sunny season.
It seems we really are happier during summer.
A study from the University of Michigan found that warm weather improves mood, memory and creativity, while another study, published in the British Journal of Psychology, revealed that hotter temperatures have the potential to lower anxiety.
What’s more, with longer, warmer days, summer provides more opportunities to switch up your routine and enjoy what the season has on offer.
So, while enjoying the hotter months and switching up our routines, now is the perfect time to think about summer self-care.
What is self-care?
“Self-care describes and covers the deliberate things you do for the benefit of your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing,” said Belinda Sidhu, Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Vitality.
This will look different for everybody, but ensuring a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle is going to help. Crucially, “self-care isn’t about being selfish,” added Sidhu.
“Practising self-care can help you manage stress and anxiety and increase energy, and a general sense of wellbeing.”
And summer, according to Sidhu, is a great time to start introducing these practices into your everyday routines.
“Summer can be a good time to introduce the outdoors into our self-care regimes – as long as the British weather holds out,” said Sidhu.
“For example, try doing yoga outdoors, or swapping the treadmill for your local parkrun. Through this, we can also top up our vitamin D intake – which research suggests contributes to regulating our mood.”
Here’s how to capitalise on all that the season has to offer and make this your best summer yet.
1. Embrace the great outdoors
“Being in nature has huge benefits for our wellbeing; from reducing stress and anxiety to easing muscle tension and reducing blood pressure as we relax,” Sidhu added.
One study, which measured the influence of green environments on stress levels, found that those who strolled for just 20 minutes within a park or woodland setting were significantly more relieved of stress compared with those who walked in a city centre.
“During summer, we can also top up our vitamin D levels outdoors, plus sunlight is thought to help increase our serotonin levels. Serotonin, which is often called the ‘feel-good’ chemical, helps regulate our mood,” said Sidhu.
While the benefits of exercise for both body and mind are well documented, these are often heightened when exercise is taken outdoors. Studies have shown that outdoor exercise, compared with indoor activity, promotes greater feelings of revitalisation, positive engagement and improved self-esteem.
Make it happen:
- Embrace your local area – there might be woods to stroll in, coastline to explore or hills to hike.
- Limit your screen time – try to spend time outdoors without tech and enjoy the world around you.
- Find your local lido or wild swimming spot.
- Skip the bus; walk or cycle instead.
- Try a summer sport, like tennis or cricket.
2. Make the most of your morning
How do you start your day? With partial working from home the norm, too many of us are guilty of foregoing an energising morning routine in favour of a few more presses of the snooze button.
Not only does getting up and about set you up for a better day, it also ensures a more peaceful night’s sleep.
“Our eyes use and need light to help set our body’s internal clock, so early morning sunlight can actually help us to sleep better at night,” said Sidhu.
“This is because when we’re exposed to sunlight in the morning, our nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, so we enter sleep more easily at night.” (Melatonin is the hormone that naturally helps control our sleep cycle.)
Getting moving in the morning (when it’s a little bit cooler) can also help you beat the heat in summer and enjoy your exercise with a clear mind that is free from distractions.
One study found that morning exercise improves attention, visual learning and working memory, while another indicated that morning movement is associated with more physical activity throughout the day.
Make it happen:
- Unfurl your mat and make yoga a part of your morning routine. Even if it’s just ten minutes, focus on the breath and enjoy the stretch.
- Take a morning stroll, through a green space, if possible.
- The morning is a great time for reflection – try repeating affirmations, meditation or work on your gratitude list.
- Read – not the news or anything work-related, but something that you enjoy or that inspires you.
3. Get gardening
Gardening is well-known for being beneficial for our mental and physical health. “A report in the Mental Health Review Journal referred to gardening as being able to reduce stress and improve mood,” said Sidhu.
“Gardening can also contribute to non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, meaning activities that utilise energy which aren’t specifically exercise.”
Make it happen:
- If you’re new to growing your own, plant some summer veg: runner beans and beetroot can be planted in summer.
- Not got a garden? Not to worry. Search online to join a community garden or sign up for an allotment – both are also great for socialising, and you can learn the secrets from other green fingers.
- Make any space your garden – window boxes, doorsteps and windowsills can all be planted with colourful petunias and geraniums.
4. Make socialising a habit
Feeling less confined to our homes opens the doors (literally) for more socialising in summer – and this has big benefits for our wellbeing. “Some studies show those who have social connections live longer and have a lower chance of developing heart disease,” noted Sidhu.
“Fostering social connections can help increase our mental wellbeing, reduce stress and develop a sense of meaning and purpose in life.”
Make it happen:
- Don’t fall into the socialising-equals-drinking trap. Instead, head to the beach, find an outdoor cinema, go strawberry picking, explore open gardens, or go on a bike ride.
- Try a new activity or learn a new skill with friends, a life drawing class or pottery making, For inspiration, search for workshops in your area.
- With the sun shining, you are less likely to want to rush home from the office. Set up a ‘weekly social hour’, a dedicated minimum one-hour slot on a set day every week where you meet up with friends.
5. Do what’s best for you
One of the most important ways we can practise self-care at any time, according to Sidhu, is by setting boundaries.
“While there are lots of benefits for socialising and getting out in the summertime, for some people, it might still feel overwhelming considering Covid-19 numbers are still high.
“Being kind to ourselves and practising saying ‘no’ when we don’t feel ready to go out and attend that summer barbecue can be just as helpful for our mental wellbeing.”