Summer is a glorious season — and also a demanding one. With days and evenings packed full of people, projects, and activities, it’s easy to get run down.
Even if your body is telling you it needs a break, you might be hearing a little voice saying you should be trying to fit more in and get more done. As a result, our summers tend to be lived at full throttle.
The trouble is, our do-more culture encourages us to live like it’s summer year-round. So in this installment of The Living Experiment, we suggest ways of designing your summer more consciously.
Dallas shares tips for nutrition, fitness, and sleep from his Seasonal Model of Health. Pilar offers insights for managing your physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. And as always, we suggest experiments to help you enjoy summer’s best gifts in ways that work for you.
The Dark Side of Light
- During summer, the days are longer and the nights shorter. Those extra hours of bright daylight program our brains and bodies to wake up earlier and stay up later.
- Our hormones and neurotransmitters naturally shift into a highly active, awake, pro-social mode in summer. In the context of modern lives that no longer enjoy the balancing “hibernation break” of winter, this can contribute to chronic stress, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and depression.
- The dopamine-driven, go-go-go vibe of summer (which our culture programs us to sustain all year long) can lead us to take on too many commitments and chase too many goals, driving up adrenaline, and draining our reserves to a dangerous degree.
- In climates where winters are long and cold, summer weather can feel like a scarce resource. “FOMO” — fear of missing out — can incline us to squeeze in extra activities and social obligations around the edges of our already too-tight schedules.
- For all these reasons, we can wind up ignoring our bodies’ signals for rest, quiet, and solitude. All of this can contribute to year-round patterns of overdoing, overexerting, under-recovering, and under-reflecting that work against our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
- Summer is an ideal time to enjoy locally available, nutrient-dense foods — especially colorful plants and plant-fed (wild and pasture-raised) animal proteins.
- Because summer exposes your body to more solar radiation and antioxidant-sapping physical activity, -phytonutrient-rich vegetables and fruits become especially important for fending off the ravages of cell-damaging free radicals. (For more, see “The Case for Seasonal Eating.”)
- Summer is the time to enjoy lower-intensity, longer-duration movement. You’ll likely feel more drawn to outdoor endurance activities (bike, run, hike, climb) versus intense weightlifting or training.
- If you train heavily or participate in demanding athletic events, be sure to prioritize recovery and sleep.
- In the Chinese Five Element theory, the element associated with summer is fire, and the emotion associated with summer is joy — a state of celebration. But that “fire” energy can also burn up a lot of energetic resources.
- To avoid burnout, aim to rest before you’re tired. Seek out some quiet time. Accept only the invitations that feel like a giant “yes!” Rather than chasing summer’s enticements, let the season’s best come to you.
Dallas suggests: If you’re not regularly exercising, go outdoors and walk for 15 minutes first thing in the morning. If you have a structured, high-intensity exercise program, take a break and focus more on spontaneous, lower-intensity movement. Notice how these changes affect your energy and sleep cycles.
Pilar suggests: When you go shopping, find two veggies and two fruits that are in season and that are different colors — for example, raspberries and peaches, or leafy greens and radishes (sliced with butter and salt!). Stretch a little beyond what you normally eat, and aim to incorporate a rainbow of foods into all of your summer meals.