Shift Into Idle and Enjoy Summer

By Erin Olyer Rohlf, LCSW

Lilacs are budding and grad party invites are rolling in. Summer is right around the corner.

Whether you’re like me, gleefully bidding the winter months good riddance, or you already dread those scorching sunny days, let’s agree on this: Summer, as both a season and a concept, has much to teach us about how to proactively nurture our bodies, minds and spirits. Let me explain.

Think back to summer break as a teenager. What was it about summer that had you so psyched? Most likely, it was more time with friends, less time stuck indoors studying and the chance to do something new and exciting. That summer crush on the boy next door or the first summer job that had you earning your own pocket money are perfect examples. 

Fast forward to today. All this adulting—working 40 plus hours or more week after week, doing double duty just to keep house and family afloat—is enough to drive the best of us to the brink of burnout and depression if we’re not mindful. Wistfully remembering what was special about those teen summer years (mine were spent baking in the sun, slathered in baby oil, a habit my mature skin now regrets) is our key to recapturing the joy we crave now. Let’s discover how to integrate the joy of summer by shifting from high speed into idle for a season.

Studies have shown that vacations and other breaks from work significantly reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Chronic stress, in fact, can be downright toxic to your body by increasing your risk for depression, high blood pressure and a host of other illnesses that many of us know about, but few of us take steps to proactively manage. If “spring cleaning” is a thing, why can’t “summer stress checkup” be as well? You don’t have to finance a two-week cruise to reduce your cortisol. Taking smaller breaks on a consistent basis reduces cortisol too. 

Also, switching up our day-to-day routines (remember summer camp?) challenges our brain to create new pathways, also known as neuroplasticity, which improves memory. Studies by the National Institutes of Health have shown that visiting new places and having new experiences promotes memory due to the biological significance of adapting to new and novel environments. The “new and novel” concept is only as limited as your imagination and can be as simple as cooking with a new spice or walking to work.

Here are more ways to tap the summer spirit: 

Give yourself permission to drop one work-related task and sub in a fun activity, preferably outdoors. Did you know there are more than 30 Denver Parks and Recreation Centers that feature a swimming pool? Berkeley and Aztlan are the closest for Northwest Denver folks, but there are plenty of other choices too. How long since you whiled away a sunny afternoon under a sun hat, sweet tea in one hand and a cheap paperback in the other? Even if you’re not a fan of chlorinated water and splashing hordes, nothing prevents you from chilling out with a picnic basket in the grass. 

Summer camp was all about trying something new and being OK if you sucked at it. How long has it been since you took a class that didn’t relate to your profession? 

Try getting your hands dirty just for the sake of it, whether it’s container gardening, throwing clay onto the potter’s wheel, or creating macaroni and glue art with your preschooler. 

If you like the summer fun concept but prefer to hug the A/C until August, the summer spirit applies to the great indoors too. Queue up a YouTube video on watercolor painting or perfect a vegan ceviche recipe. With an Internet connection, you have the world at your fingertips.

Drop me an email and share how downshifting has helped your mental health. Meanwhile, have a great summer!

Erin Olyer Rohlf is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), professional therapist and founder of Higher Healing and Wellness, LLC. Call her at 720-644-1400 or email her at for information or to suggest ideas for future columns.

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