gently smiling sun overlooking a picnic blanket with tomatoes, pie, and lemonade
Health

How to Have a Great Summer if You Hate Summer

Yes, it's uncomfortably hot, and there's way too much pressure to “wear shorts” and “have fun”—but it is possible to actually enjoy yourself.
July 15, 2021, 5:52pm
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Getting Along is a column about taking care of yourself, setting boundaries, and having difficult conversations, for people who struggle with all three.

Summer and I do not fuck with each other; as I’ve written before, I have a deep-in-my-bones aversion to the hot weather and forced fun of it all. This time of year makes me feel trapped and anxious in a way that the worst days of winter never do. This reality often makes me feel like a freak—like, who doesn’t love summer?—but in recent years, I’ve been more open about it, and have discovered that I’m not the only one who feels something akin to Seasonal Affective Disorder when it’s 85 degrees and sunny. 

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If you’re quietly struggling with the fact that you’d prefer to curl up in the one cool spot in your home and not move... I gotchu. In the past few years, I’ve been a lot more proactive about finding ways to survive and, well… I wouldn’t say thrive, exactly, because I am still at, like, 60 percent of my full powers this time of year. But I’ve at least developed a tenuous working relationship with summer, and I have some tried-and-true strategies that keep the existential dread at bay, and might help you as well. While these tips can’t cure depression (only the essential oils your high school friend is selling on Facebook can do that!), they can be helpful in conjunction with bigger coping strategies, and/or if you’re feeling really down without being fully depressed. 

A lot of the ideas on this list might seem a little retro, but don’t let that stop you from trying them. I know that when I’m having a tough time, I often feel like I need to reinvent the wheel, because I want to believe my problems are too complex and complicated to be solved by obvious things like “read a book in the park instead of spending an hour on Instagram” and “don’t drink too much alcohol.” 

But at the end of the day, we’re all fairly simple creatures, and the wholesome activities that humans have been enjoying during the summer for 100+ years are popular for a reason. I’ve had a lot of luck doing things that ultimately just feel wholesome—straightforward and safe, unfussy and a little obvious but then surprisingly delightful. 

Plan at least two things each month to look forward to

One of the reasons I’ve always found summer so difficult is because it’s so social, and not spending every weekend on a fun-looking group trip—coupled with the realization that seemingly everyone you know has generational wealth/a summer house/a cute backyard and the people to fill it with—can really make you feel like you’re missing out. 

But it’s also been helpful for me to remember that I do, to some degree, control my own fate; we are all free to make plans that don’t require us to engage in the summer activities we hate the most, the ones that leave us feeling over-scheduled, extremely sweaty, and very resentful. Planning things to look forward to might look like hosting a little dinner party, organizing a park day, or getting up early—before it gets terribly hot—to visit a new-to-you coffee shop or bookstore that opened during the pandemic. There’s lots of research that says that planning a vacation is more satisfying than actually going on vacation, and in my experience, that applies to more than just big trips. Having a few things on the calendar each month to look forward to helps a lot.

Also, if you’re not heir to, IDK, a malt liquor fortune and therefore don’t have a “cottage” (that’s actually a 12-bedroom mansion), I strongly recommend getting into day trips this summer. A little change of scenery and some novelty goes a long way, and allows you to feel like you’re summering, if only for 8–12 hours. So before you write off summer entirely, it’s worth Googling “day trips near [your city]” or “day trips [your state]” and seeing if anything sounds appealing. Invite a couple of friends to your state’s minor-league amusement park—i.e., your version of Michigan’s Adventure or Coney Island—or to the literal minor league baseball game, or whatever feels fun and relaxing and doable to you. 

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Speaking of friends: I do think it’s important to make a point of including others in some of these plans. When you’re in your bad season, it’s very tempting to turn inward… and while I personally am very happy being alone, I’m also aware that this can also lead to the sort of isolation that ultimately makes things worse. 

So if your tendency right now is to turn inward, or to avoid perfectly nice and well-meaning invitations because you can’t bear the thought of putting on a bathing suit or shorts, take the lead on planning some things to do with other people, so you don’t feel totally cut off. 

Basically, arrange your summer in a way that means your happiness isn’t dependent on 1) being invited, or 2) being very wealthy.

Go outside/experience nature in some capacity—even if you think you’re not really a nature person

I’m a true “indoor girl,” but I’ve really come around on the natural world in the past few years. Since reading The Nature Fix (a book that basically says, “Nature? Is good for your brain, you fool”), nature has become a key part of my summer coping strategy. 

For me, the secret is selecting nature activities where I have a decent amount of control over the details and/or can bring along the gear necessary to be comfortable. So I’m not going to, say, get dragged along on a weeklong camping trip any time soon, or do an unfamiliar hike with people I don’t know well, but I could absolutely fuck with, say, an afternoon spent in a public garden that’s very clearly not going to require me to get out of breath or wear special shoes. 

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I’ve also learned I don’t hate the beach like I once thought—I simply needed to get a good beach chair and umbrella! That said, I know myself well enough to know I’m probably not going to enjoy a beach trip where I can’t easily bring along all of my gear or where I’m forced to spend a lot of time in the water. 

The big the thing I’ve learned, and that I really want to stress, is that camping and hiking and getting in the water actually aren’t necessary to get the benefits of nature; it can truly be as simple as sitting outside in your yard and observing the birds, or making a point to watch the sun set, or sitting in the shade in a park for a little while. Nature can take a lot of different forms, and within those forms, having a modicum of control—of the specific hike/beach/park, or your mode of transportation, or the stuff you bring, or the amount of time you’re there—can make it so you get all of the benefits without any of the blisters, bug bites, and sunburns.

Get a very low-stakes summer hobby

When you’re feeling kind of low, taking on a hobby really helps—it gives you something to do besides scroll/wallow, along with a sense of accomplishment and an interesting answer when people inevitably ask, “So, what have you been up to lately?” If you’re a summer hater, it’s worth choosing a hobby with an extremely low barrier to entry, that doesn’t have a steep learning curve or require a ton of pricey equipment. You’re already feeling blah and unmotivated, so don’t choose something that’ll require seven extremely humid crosstown bus trips to Home Depot. 

One of my summer 2021 hobbies is “little games you play with cards,” which I’m excited about because these games can easily be transported to the park or the beach (making them feel like a decidedly summer activity), and because they involve socializing, which we’ve already established is important if you’re feeling kind of blah. (Some little games you play with cards that I’d recommend, if you’re curious: The Bears and the Bees, Strawberry Sunset, and Sushi Go.) 

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Other low-stakes summer hobbies for your consideration: planting some seeds and growing them into a plant; stargazing (learn some constellations! impress your dates!); getting really into watching a particular Olympic sport; going to the farmers market every week; and reading “trashy” books (whatever that means to you), perhaps with a friend as a sort of book club. And don’t overlook the powerful force that is nostalgia. I can’t think of a better time to re-read all of Sweet Valley High.  

Invest in a few outfits you don’t hate

Getting dressed in the summer is, to me, pure punishment, and a huge part of why I dislike this season so much. I am most myself when I’m wearing pants and a sweater! I want to wear socks, god damn it!!! But as the old adage goes, there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. While this is generally applied to winter, it’s also worth considering here, and figuring out if better clothes would help. 

If you feel similarly, well, I can’t offer you a foolproof solution because there just isn’t one (and it’s all really going to depend on your taste and budget), but I can offer up some ideas that might point you in a happier direction: 

  • If you, like me, feel that all the clothes in stores right now are truly terrible and not at all your aesthetic, consider thrifting and/or resale sites like Poshmark, Etsy, and eBay. 
  • Pay attention to the inseam length when you’re buying shorts, because it can be a game changer—like, what looks like mid-thigh on a model and what looks like mid-thigh on me are wildly different things, but the actual measurements don’t lie. For me, 5 inches is a magic number, and I no longer fuck with anything shorter. Your magic number might be different, but I can promise you that once you figure out what it is (and what it is not), it’ll make shopping for/wearing shorts at least 20 percent less harrowing. 
  • I know that suggesting T-shirts for summer is about as groundbreaking as florals for spring, but if you let yourself think outside of what’s currently in stores and think weirder—e.g., very-your-brand local biz tees, thrifted stuff that hearkens back to what was cool when you were a tween—you can find a couple of good options that make you feel like you’re Wearing an Outfit, even when you’re literally just wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Bonus: cut off the sleeves, turn them into crop tops, etc. You’re dressin’! 
  • Bike shorts are fully back, and thank god for that—wear them with the aforementioned weird tee and you’re in business.
  • Monochromatic outfits tend to make everyone look more stylish, so that’s a good and fairly easy way to make whatever summer styles you’re comfortable in feel more intentional. 
  • Related: Embrace a just-for-summer signature color or motif that makes you feel like you’re on vacation from your normal life. 
  • I’m not sure when exactly Abercrombie became Reformation for Brokes, but I love it, and I encourage you to revisit it if it’s been a while. 
  • There are so many great Crocs and Crocs-adjacent shoes available right now that, really, none of us should be suffering in heels or badly blistered for the sake of fashion anymore. 
  • If the sun bearing down on your face is a huge source of discomfort and annoyance, get a visor or hat that makes being outside a little less awful. I recently got a $5 plain pale yellow cotton baseball cap from a sporting goods store, and it has changed my summer so much for the better! Midday walks are more enjoyable, humidity is less ruinous… truly incredible. 

Pay attention to your weather app of choice

I am intimately familiar with Accuweather these days, as I’m checking it regularly so I’ll have a sense of the day’s humidity levels, exactly what time it’s likely to start raining, and which evenings I’m very likely to regret making outdoor plans. While ongoing heat waves and oppressive humidity mean some weeks don’t offer a ton of options, I have found that knowing in advance that, say, it’s going to pour all weekend is quite helpful. 

Light some candles and turn on the ol’ string lights

By now, you’re surely familiar with hygge, the Danish concept of coziness and contentment that is a response to the long, dark days of winter. Articles about hygge tend to offer suggestions like lighting candles or twinkle lights, curling up under a blanket with a book, wearing cozy socks, and drinking tea or cocoa. In the past few years, I’ve started thinking more about how to bring the hygge spirit to summer. While not everything translates, the lighting aspect definitely does. Because when you’re doing things by twinkle or candle light, it’s like you’re no longer sitting around feeling kind of sad—no, you’re camping. It’s surprisingly easy to transform whatever space you’re in into something magical. 

Get a summer soundtrack

Music, like nature, is one of those things I used to forget about or set aside out of laziness and a lack of interest, and then one day would rediscover and think, “WOW!!! MY WHOLE MOOD HAS IMPROVED!!! WHO KNEW?!?!?!” and it’s like “...literally everyone knew, Rachel!!!” 

If this sounds at all familiar to you, or if you tend to have the TV or podcasts on as background noise but don’t always remember to put on a new playlist when one ends, consider this your reminder to blast some music that screams “summer” to you at a few key points during your day. 

Figure out some lovely summer recipes to enjoy/master

When you’re trying to get through a bad season, using food as a source of pleasure and/or as one of your little hobbies can really help. Fresh summer produce, especially, tends to give you that sweet Norman Rockwell–ass feeling and, in my opinion, also counts in the “nature” category. Pick one food (e.g., tomatoes, corn, basil, watermelon, cherries) or one category (pasta salads, fruit pies, grilling) and then select a few inspiring recipes within that that you can plan for. (I’d say no more than 2–3 new recipes per month, because anything more than that can turn the whole endeavor into a huge burden, and you want to have time and energy for the other things on the list.) 

Eat more ice cream

Or Popsicles, or Icees, or s’mores, or whatever treat brings you summer joy. Enjoy these treats outside as often as possible, and consider making this a part of your daily routine. I promise, October will be here before you know it. 

Rachel Miller is the author of The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People. Follow her on Twitter.