Dr. Deborah Cohen, School Counselor
The school year is over, and while most students will engage in academic camps or tutoring to keep up their skills over the summer, the three months between June and September is typically a time for a slower pace, rest and relaxation. But is it a “waste of time?” From a psychological perspective, absolutely not! Read on to learn about some of the psychological benefits of summer!
Summer typically involves more time outside. Either at camp, parks, or on the back deck, summer lends itself to more time outside, or this exposure has great psychological benefits. An accumulation of research over the last 30+ years suggests that exposure to nature (or possibly even pictures of nature!) improves attention, supports executive functioning and self-regulation, lowers stress, and lowers symptoms of depression and anxiety. The theory of Attentional Restoration Theory posits that nature has fewer demands on attention while being inherently pleasurable, which in turn delivers a restorative effect on attention. So as you and your children enjoy more time outside this summer, your brains are benefiting!
Summer is also a time when many families visit the beach. While media (movies, ads, etc.) have fostered a relaxing association with the beach, there is scientific evidence that time at the beach is good for your mental health. For example, aquatic scenes are often cited by test subjects as a positive environment and they seem to have a particularly positive effect on the restoration of attention. In addition, the color blue has been found to be associated with increased calm and creativity, and the sight and sound of the ocean can induce a meditative state that helps the body and mind to rest. Finally, you are not imagining the particular sweetness of the ocean air – apparently the air near the ocean contains oxygen atoms with an extra electron that may contribute to enhanced mood!
Finally, summer is often a time for family travel, which delivers its own set of benefits. Travel can present daily challenges (e.g., adapting to a new place, new routines) that can help to grow flexibility and lower emotional reactivity. Travel also has the potential to broaden one’s view of the world and one’s place in it. In addition, travel takes us away from the pressures and tasks of home, stimulates creativity, and most importantly, gives time with loved ones that strengthens relationships.
So, enjoy the summer! And know that your “time off” is nurturing your brain, your mental health, and your family relationships!