As the last term inches closer to its end, there’s a unanimous sense of excitement in the air. After a gruelling year of bleak early mornings and 8am traffic, pre-exam stress and post-exam anxiety, impending deadlines and academic drudgery, something magical, almost surreal, comes closer to becoming a reality - the summer holidays.
They stand as a beacon of anticipated enjoyment, a glorious symbol of freedom and fun. Days and weeks and months devoid of scholastic labour or intellectual thoughts. Actually, they’re days and weeks and months devoid of anything really. It’s up to us to fill in or leave empty.
And that’s where the predicament starts.
Should we fill it up or leave it empty?
The Online World
Summer entails one inevitability - spending a lot more time online. Social media could easily consume most of our time without us even realising, feeding us a plethora of random content for hours on end. Videos of beginner gym workouts and ‘Top 10 Books to Read’. Pictures of Southern French holidays and gluten-free-vegan-no-sugar triple chocolate muffins. A montage of people jumping into a crystal ocean at sunset with nostalgic music.
Scroll, swipe, like, scroll.
This constant exposure to an abundance of content has proven to exacerbate feelings of guilt, confusion, stress and pressure. Maybe I should go to the gym? She's read fourteen books this month. I’ve only read one. I should bake. Knit. Write. I should have gone to Italy. Why am I inside? What should I do outside?
Even though we’ve learnt and read that social media is fake, there’s a subconscious thought telling us to be more like the people on our screen. We see people skinny, happy, healthy, tanned and picture perfect by the time they start their new school year, and it’s presented as an opportunity for us to do the same. We start feeling guilty about lying in bed all day, hanging out with our friends, eating too much. There’s a nagging feeling in our minds that we should be more productive, to not lay waste to all of this free time.
The Art of Reflection
I’m not a child psychologist, a therapist or an expert of any kind, but it’s sorely obvious to me that these inner-thoughts are extremely detrimental to our mental and physical health. Comparisons between a false depiction of reality online and our current lives offline are demeaning, unrealistic and completely and utterly unnecessary.
With all of these intrusive thoughts constantly rattling around in our brains, it’s really important to reflect on ourselves before we let anything or anyone influence us, especially the digital world.
‘Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.’ - Jennifer Porter, Harvard Business Review.
Reflecting allows us to learn more about ourselves. Do I work better under pressure or do I crumble? Do I feel relaxed or tense after going on my phone for an hour? Does healthy eating make me feel empowered or even more self-conscious?
The beautiful thing about our brains is that they all work differently, meaning we’d have unique answers to all of these questions - and that’s okay! Learning more about your individual coping mechanisms, what makes you stressed and relaxed, is extremely crucial in maintaining good wellbeing. Conforming with what society, your peers or social media tells you to do could sometimes do more harm than good - the only person that truly knows about you, is you.
Remember to keep a positive and critical perspective when looking back on the year. Look at the ups and downs,the times you felt happiest and the times you didn't, the times you were stressed and how you dealt with it. Through reflection and truly understanding yourself, our predicament might be a little easier to solve. We could spend our summer focusing on what makes us happy and what we think we need to work towards, regardless of whether it’s getting a job or watching Netflix.
So to conclude, summer in all her glory is just free time that we have the freedom to fill. It’s a time when we can focus solely on ourselves, our wellbeing and our mental health. It’s an empty book which we can fill with words and pictures, stories and art, happiness and memories. To end on a positive and tangible piece of advice, here are some summer activities that make me feel both relaxed and productive:
- Scrapbooking - It’s funny how much you can do with a €2 blank book. If this summer you truly want to reflect and look back, scrapbooking is a perfect way to do so. Print pictures, take polaroids, find old tourist pamphlets and random bits of memorabilia and compile them all into a beautiful memory lane on paper. Look back on fond memories and preserve them forever with paper cut outs of hearts and stars, and keep adding to it!
- Listening to podcasts - this is my special favourite, because this goes hand in hand with most things we do on a daily basis. Find a gut-clenching true-crime series or an empowering feminist discussion and have it play in the background while you’re vacuuming, walking, cleaning your room, doing nothing, eating and the list goes on. Some of the most unique and intriguing topics have been discussed and brought to light through podcasts, topics that would never make it to mainstream media, such as intersectionality, climate poverty and even online wellbeing.
- And lastly, a slightly hypocritical one - spending some time online. I absolutely agree that too much screen time results in burnout and can leave you feeling overwhelmed, but that doesn’t mean that the internet is completely evil! Viewing the online world from a positive perspective, it’s actually just a paradise teeming with brilliant ideas, inspiration, articles, tutorials and so much more that could educate, motivate and encourage us to start a new hobby or discover more about our interests.
“Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before.” – Franz Kafka