By Center for Change
Summer Solstice marks the day when the sun will appear at its highest point in the sky and there is more daylight than any other day in the year. This year, solstice will begin on June 21st for those of us in the Northern half of the world. This day ushers in the beginning of summer and bears a special recognition for the wondrousness of the sun and all it does to sustain our life. Our sun, the fiery ball in the sky, is an incredible life force for us on earth as it marks the beginning and ending of each day, provides us with natural Vitamin D, life giving heat, light, and ultimately holds the solar system together.
In many ancient cultures summer solstice was celebrated with festivals, holidays, and rituals. For those of us in the West, we are often having a different kind of celebration: a break from school or a vacation from work. Quite fitting as the word solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still or stop). Summer is a time to break from the rigors and stress of school or work and engage in relaxation and play. For many people it is associated with freedom and positive emotions. Words like vacation, friendship, joy, warmth, and exploration come to mind. Summer often symbolizes freedom, growth, and love.
For individuals struggling with an eating disorder or body image issues, summer vacation may be a very different experience. It can be an extraordinarily stressful time. Instead of freedom, rest, and play they feel increased pressure and distress. The consistent schedule of school and work is no longer available in the same ways and the less structured days of summer and the standing still metaphor of the solstice creates anxiety and fear about food and body.
Messages about getting in shape for summer, exercises for the perfect swimsuit body, and diet fads are splashed across the covers of both men’s and women’s magazines. What is historically meant to be a season of freedom and adventure is often an avenue for cultural messages about value as a person linked to one’s physical shape and a way for a 60 billion dollar diet industry to increase their profit margins. Indeed, it seems there is a need in the summer for increased tending to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and disturbances with one’s relationship with food and body image. While summer may bring freedom for some, it can certainly also function as a catalyst for an increase in eating disordered symptoms and isolative behaviors.
As treating clinicians our role is not only to support, but also to help our clients challenge the part of the disorder that is keeping them from fully engaging in life. In thinking about the summer season specifically, the eating disorder often keeps our clients from experiencing the joys of feeling the warmth of the sun on their face, their toes in the sand, the taste of a backyard BBQ with friends and family, or immersing their body in the cool water of a pool or the ocean.
Part of the work we do is to provide our clients with alternative options and coping strategies for the challenging seasons of life. We want to share some ideas with you about how our clients can take on summer as a golden opportunity for making meaning in their lives and perhaps even having a joyful healing experience despite the anxiety and self-worth issues.
Some Explorations for Summer
- Exploring the Meaning of Summer: This can be used as a journaling tool for clients to explore some of the positive memories they may have of summer as a child and the symbolic ways they can connect with the themes of the season.
- What is a favorite memory of summer as a child? What are the different senses connected to that memory? Taste? Smell? Sounds? What did it look like or feel like?
- What brings sunlight to your life? More symbolically, what are the things or people that light up your heart?
- What kinds of activities bring a feeling of warmth and goodness?
- What images come to mind when you think about freedom?
- Exploring Nature: Summer provides ample opportunities to nurture oneself in the expansive beauty of nature.
- Honoring your one precious body through engaging in mindful non-weight loss focused movement that brings joy such as strolling through the woods, throwing a Frisbee with a friend, walking in a sun-drenched field, playing in the water, or miniature golf
- Walk barefoot through the grass or in the sand, feeling the earth under your feet
- Planting a garden, getting your hands in the dirt, establishing roots for fresh herbs or flowers can be a wonderful way to connect with nature
- Get up early and watch the sunrise
- Fly a kite and pay mindful attention to the assistance of the wind
- Exploring the Deepening of Relationships: Relationships are the foundation of support for recovery and there are so many possibilities for intentionally engaging with people over the summer season.
- Embrace the unexpected and perhaps do something spontaneous with a friend such as drive to the lake or have a picnic in the park
- Plan a road trip with a friend or family member
- Bring joy into social gatherings with a favorite playlist or game
- Ask for support – eat lunch with a friend or seek help from a trusted loved one at an event that might be particularly challenging around food
These ideas are just a start. Hopefully they will help get your own creativity moving and generate conversations with your clients about the meaning of summer and how we can introduce healing elements into something that often brings anxiety and fear. We truly believe that full recovery is possible and summer, with both its challenges and great joys, provides an ideal opportunity to recommit to or perhaps for some, begin the journey for the first time. In the words of the great poet Mary Oliver, from her poem The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Hope and recovery can start anew or be strengthened by taking positive steps this summer.