Summertime: A Good Time to Balance

Kerry Huver

The idea of summertime brings many things to mind—backyards, BBQs, beaches, iced tea on the porch, and days spent relaxing with family and friends. What summertime doesn’t remind us of all that much is work. But in a way, the play that summertime invites us to is intimately connected to our ability to work and live well.

Summertime invites us to slow down and simplify

Whether we’re the parents of preschoolers or taking a summer backpacking trip between university semesters, everyone is collectively impacted by this time of the year. Just as students of all ages retreat a bit from their social and academic pressures to think about and do what makes them happy and at ease, summertime reminds adults to also take time out to consider ourselves. We take summer vacations, spend time with family and friends, and may not be as motivated to go to work. We allow things to slow down this time of the year.

That’s a good thing.

Simplify your approach to summertime

Summertime invites us to be creative and mindful

Summertime brings with it an invitation to many activities that are vital to our health, both mental and physical. Fresh food grows in our pots and lines the stalls of farmers markets. The warm sun calls us out of the house and to walks around the neighborhood or along the beach. As the evenings stretch longer and everything is growing, summertime calls us to be creative, too.

We plant flowers…we tell stories…we take and share photographs of the sun setting…we wear our clothes differently. These things may seem like incidental and insignificant parts of our lives, but they’re not, not at all. These small acts of creativity are essential to maintaining happy, productive lives. This is the case everywhere, for everyone, but in West Michigan, summertime’s invitation to take breaks and find small ways to enjoy ourselves and experience our place in the world is especially poignant. Set between our magnificent lakes and our awe-inspiring winters, summertime reminds us that days are fleeting, work is hard, and life is meant to be enjoyed.

Summertime invites us to savor simple sensory experiences

Don’t miss out on summertime’s invitation

These little moments aren’t just the icing on the cake of a good life; they are, really, the apple a day that keeps the doctor away. Go outside for a walk, enjoy the local festivals, go to the lakeshore and play in the waves. Take the opportunity to experience the world around you, and understand that it is an essential part of getting in tune with yourself.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, and widely regarded expert on the benefits of mindfulness, defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience.” Part of understanding and being part of experience as it happens is learning to know our senses. Deliberate acts of creativity bring us into contact with the nearly magical power of our ability to sense. Feeling the cold soil in our hands as we nestle a begonia in a cradle of dirt, smelling the waves as we hear them lap behind a zen garden we shape along the beach, catching rare colors as they gleam from bits of glass we plant alongside our flower beds, or tasting the fresh air as we breathe deeply and let bubbles fly into a sunlit evening brings us more than a moment of fun.

In fact, the act of creating can bring on healing benefits. Creativity makes pathways in our brains. We connect to memories in innovative ways and slow down the daily grind of information that can be so toxic and boggling.

Summertime brings opportunities for reclamation and creativity

Research indicates that being deliberate about making art or making artistic choices helps treat a host of mental illnesses—it can improve concentration, overcome depression, treat anxiety, and combat PTSD. Just as vitamin C is good for us whether we have a cold or not, so too are simple acts of creativity.

The role of creativity and summertime’s invitation to it remind me of the gleam I see in the eyes of my seven-year-old daughter. It’s a gleam which refreshes the world to me in new ways, time and again. Young children have kindness in their hearts that is so genuine and authentic, and we don’t think twice about whether playing pretend and being creative are a big part of kids’ vibrant approach to life. But when it comes to adults, we think that “being creative” is something we do “when we can spare the time.” Well, who has time to spare? Creativity isn’t something we should lose with adulthood.

Taking time for things that don’t take much

Playing in the backyard, imagining a magical world of fairy tales and make believe. Catching fireflies, digging in the sandbox, playing in the dirt, running around a neighborhood in a carefree way, being outside for hours. Doing sidewalk chalk—these are all activities that need not stop with the end of adolescence. Carrying them with you into your adult summers (and seasons in general) helps you stay connected to the things that make you you, in so many ways.

As summertime winds down, remember to accept its invitation. You don’t have to go wild and crazy—you don’t even have to join a yoga class or take sculpting lessons. You can start small. Be mindful as you do gentle stretching, journal, pay attention to light and color in photos you snap with your phone, listen to music, work on a craft or hobby, go for a walk in nature. Taking time for things that don’t take much gives us the stamina and the focus we need to work and be well.