Holiday blues: how to stave off end-of-summer dread
Does the imminent change in weather bring you down? Or the thought of the kids going back to school stress you out? August Anxiety is becoming more prevalent, but there are things you can do to lift your spirits as the colder months close in
Time flies when you're having fun, or so the saying goes. And there is nothing like the speed with which the last days of the holidays rush by, leaving many unprepared for the harsh jolt back to reality.
But while some keep partying right up until the night before, others begin worrying about it in advance, which is not only bad for their mental health, but also sours the remainder of their break. And at this time of year, those post-holiday, pre-school blues - dubbed 'August Anxiety' - are a very real problem.
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Stella O'Malley, psychotherapist and author of Fragile: Why We Feel More Anxious, Stressed And Overwhelmed Than Ever (And What We Can Do About It), says there are a number of reasons why people are feeling down.
"Many people feel anxious because they allowed themselves to take it easier and now September is looming, they feel a sense of dread, akin to a Sunday evening with school or work the next morning," she says.
"This sense of anxiety is usually a sign that something should change - that on some level, your life is becoming overwhelming and you need to make changes to be happier and less stressed.
"Some feel overwhelmed about the to-do list. Others feel stressed about their finances, while some feel a sense of sadness that another summer is over and they haven't done things they intended to do. So we need to explore the signs that our lifestyle is stressing us out and if we feel a sense of dread for the future, then we should try to change the situation or our approach to it."
Peadar Maxwell, a senior psychologist with the HSE, says it's "normal and natural" to feel apprehensive about the end of any nice experience.
"The more relaxed our summer was, the more we don't want to see the end of it," he says. "Even something as simple as not having to make lunches each morning, having a lie-in, or less traffic on the road gives us relief and it's normal to dread the return to the rush of all the duties of the regular working or school year.
"And just as it's a challenge for adults who've had a break from some aspects of their working or parenting lives, it's also a challenge for children giving up their holiday freedom. Of course, some kids love school or are looking forward to seeing friends, but others will be down-in-the-mouth about the summer holidays ending."
But the Wexford-based expert says there are benefits to getting back to a schedule.
"The flip side is that while a break from routine can be refreshing and healthy, a return to it can give us a sense of comfort and familiarity, which feels safe," he says. "So it's important for parents to be as positive as possible about the coming weeks, particularly with a child who is not crazy about school or bedtime routines.
"Adults' vibe and attitude will impact how children see a new class, new teacher or new sports season. So remember that as much as our children love the freedom of summer, they actually thrive and learn better with routine and the predictability and continuity that school and activities bring.
"The same goes for adults, so try to pull out the positives, such as the fact that evenings can still be fine in September, which means we can continue to do outdoorsy things like an evening walk, a trip to a beach or forest at the weekend or a barbecue. So rather than being negative about August coming to a close, try to be excited for the possibilities of a new season."
Of course, some people may simply be down because they didn't get away this year. But Maxwell says we need to learn how to enjoy what we have.
"Sometimes it's not possible to have a 'real' holiday and there may be the feeling of having missed out," he says. "So try, for the remainder of the summer, to give yourself treats, such as a couple of days off to relax at home, a hike in the countryside, a leisurely lunch with a friend or have a few friends over and share the cooking together."
Stella O'Malley agrees, and says if people really feel down about having had an uneventful summer, they might need to seek help - but it's important not to pass on their negative feelings to children.
"Our happiness isn't made or broken by our holidays as our personal sense of satisfaction with life lies in day-to-day management," she says. "If you feel life is one long drudge then it's very important that you begin to seek joy - and different types of it - every day in order to pull yourself out of these feelings. Of course, some people might need extra support with this and, if so, they should attend counselling.
"But it's also important that parents teach their children to be in charge of their own happiness. This doesn't mean dismissing their feelings, but teaching them to knock some fun out of each day. And if a child is dreading school, then the parents should really take some time to figure out what exactly is going wrong and what needs to change."
After addressing the issues surrounding why we feel down, there may still be the problem of money, or lack of it, which is causing people to worry - such as the costs associated with a new school year, college fees and, although it's still a long way off, many will be wondering how they can fund Christmas.
O'Malley suggests making a concerted effort to spend less. "Most of us are spending money too easily and might be happier if we made a decision to work less and spend less," she says. "Of course, there are some people in dire poverty in this country, but many more have mental problems attributed to worrying, stress, over-work and too many burdens. So if we can free ourselves from the shackles of buying new stuff, then we can free ourselves from the burden of too much work and not enough joy.
"Buying second-hand is helpful; as is campaigning for your school to create book-lending schemes so that next year will be cheaper. Also, parents who are less wealthy should not feel bullied about paying the voluntary school contribution."
Financial adviser John Lowe, aka the Money Doctor, says many people are worried about their spending at this time of the year, but a little bit of forward planning will make all the difference.
"Essentially, it is all about saving and planning - you have to know how much it costs to run your life, so if there is a surplus, you can plan," he says. "You should have between three and six months' net annual income for your 'rainy day fund' such as sudden loss of income or emergencies. You also need to prioritise and decide what's important in your financial life, but don't get depressed, get on with it.
"You need to figure out where you are spending your money: if you need every item of expenditure, is there a cheaper alternative and can you consolidate loans?
"With less than five months to Christmas, it's an ideal time to start planning, and if you have to borrow (to pay for summer holidays or for upcoming present lists), make sure to shop around and ensure you have the budget to afford repayments."
The financial expert says we can enjoy a more positive outlook simply by organising our cash flow. So with a few weeks left before the early-morning rush begins in earnest, take a moment to consider the source of your August Anxiety, and make an effort to do something about it.