If you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of sorts heading into the summer, you’re not alone. It would be an understatement to say that a lot is going on in the world: two years into the pandemic and one year after vaccines became widely available, tens of thousands of Americans have Covid each day. Russia is at war with Ukraine, reproductive rights are under threat in nearly half of U.S. states, and climate scientists keep warning that society must make drastic changes to slow the effects of climate change.
These global events are a lot to mentally and emotionally process — particularly for younger generations, whose developmental years were interrupted by the pandemic and who are figuring out how to navigate the world they’ve inherited. More than one in four Gen Z respondents reported their mental health as fair or poor — nearly double the rate reported by Millennial and Gen X respondents, according to Verywell Mind.
The good news is that many young people are committed to taking an active role in their mental healthcare. For example, Gen Z were more likely to have received treatment or gone to therapy compared to older generations, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Younger Americans understand there’s no shame in seeking help. They want to work through challenges to expand the possibilities of their life and be in the healthiest headspace possible.
This approach reduces stigma and promotes open conversations around mental health that benefit all generations, as we grapple with challenges big and small. This #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth, the Solv team has compiled tips to help shape your mental health plan for this summer.
Spend time outside
Temperatures are warming, flowers are blooming and the days are growing longer. Summer months are a great time to soak up Vitamin D, which can affect mood, according to Healthline.
For those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), symptoms may lessen during warmer months, according to the MAYO Clinic (though a small portion of people experience it in reverse, where depressive symptoms occur during warmer months).
Meanwhile, research shows that spending time in nature or green urban settings can benefit our mental health. For example, time in nature can improve sleep, reduce stress, and also boost things like creativity and attention, according to the National Institute on Mental Illness (NAMI) California.
When combined with restorative benefits of exercise, being active outdoors is a great way to boost serotonin levels, notes NAMI. If you’re feeling down, getting up to move around may feel effortful — and the opposite of what you want to do — but could provide just the energy boost that you need.
Set boundaries with screen time
Cutting back on screen time is challenging — and that’s not your fault! It’s designed to be this way: technology companies structured apps like Facebook and Instagram to hold people’s attention, according to PsychCentral.
Some compare social media to addictive substances: “Social media isn’t like rat poison, which is toxic to almost everyone. It’s more like alcohol: a mildly addictive substance that can enhance social situations but can also lead to dependency and depression among a minority of users,” wrote Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. In fact, Instagram’s own research has shown that 1 in 3 teenage girls surveyed said that Instagram made them feel worse about their bodies, but they felt unable to stop using it.
Especially in a 24/7 news cycle, doomscrolling on Twitter or Tiktok can make it harder to unplug when you need a break. Consider limiting how much time your phone lets you spend in an app per day, which can be modified in iPhone settings. A reminder will appear once you hit your limit. If certain Instagram accounts make you feel poorly about your self-esteem, social life or body image, consider muting or unfollowing so they don’t appear on your feed.
If you need a more comprehensive detox, think about an Instagram or TikTok cleanse altogether and delete the apps for a bit. When they’re not there, the impulse to check may not cross your mind as often. Consider it the digital form of “protecting your peace.”
When you do use social media, focus on accounts that resonate
Despite social media’s flaws, it’s not all bad: it can be used to connect with others, find new communities online and share openly about mental health struggles, according to Verywell Mind.
Plus, the internet is full of (often free) resources if you’re curious about mental health: therapists are on TikTok, registered dieticians who help people recover from eating issues are on Instagram, and there are artists galore who explore topics like self-care and healing (While using social media platforms may be helpful for general information, they should not be used to diagnose. Be sure to verify the source and always talk to your health care provider for an individualized assessment).
When you are online, try to find accounts that you resonate with, whether they’re writers, poets, artists, service providers or experts from other backgrounds. To be sure, following such accounts is not a substitute for professional therapeutic support or medical advice — but they can be a helpful place to start dipping your toe into these waters.
Stay flexible to cope with ambiguity
Life since the Omicron wave has been confusing and mentally taxing as we monitor surges and recalibrate travel plans. Sometimes it feels like another variant is right around the corner; other times, it may feel like the pandemic has lulled.
The reality is that we’ll never know exactly what’s coming next, and the anxiety of not knowing can cause more pandemic fatigue, wrote Yasmin Tayag in The Atlantic. But it can also be freeing to accept that we cannot predict the future. “The best way to prepare for an uncertain future is to stay as flexible as you can,” Tayag wrote.
If you’re craving control, experts suggest thinking through what you’re going to do no matter what happens so you can become mentally prepared for any scenario, according to The Atlantic. For summer adventures, this might look like having a few different contingency plans.
Above all, it helps to draw on — and feel proud of — your resilience over the last two years. Managing fears, anxieties and existential threats during a global pandemic is no small feat! Allow your grit and growth to remind you that you’re prepared and capable of handling whatever comes your way. Remember that you might have to bend to unexpected crises, but they won’t break you. You’ve already proved that you can withstand a lot.
Look for a mental health provider who vibes with you
If you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety, depression, stress or overwhelm, it might be time to find a therapist. This takes time and effort, but is a worthwhile pursuit in the long run to help you manage your mental health in a structured way.
If you have a primary care provider, see if they have referrals for mental health specialists, according to the Washington Post. Asking family and friends for recommendations can also help, as well as searching online for therapists in your region and reading their websites to see if you align with their approach. If you have private insurance, search your insurer’s online directory to find in-network providers or ask your insurer to send a list.
It’s important to find a therapist that’s culturally competent in the context of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other aspects of identity. Be sure to read bios closely based on what you’re looking for. Therapists often have particular training with certain communities or areas of expertise, and may specify that they are “LGBTQ+-friendly,” for example.
Consider urgent care and alternative therapeutic models
Due to the current shortage of mental healthcare professionals, there might be a wait before you find a therapist who is currently accepting new patients. In the meantime, urgent care can be an effective option to treat certain acute mental health symptoms (we explore when urgent care is a good fit in more depth in this other post).
It could also be worth considering alternative models. Beyond therapy, some new digital platforms also offer tools and coaching. If you’re a teenager experiencing depressive symptoms, your primary care provider may be able to prescribe an FDA-approved digital therapeutic at little to no out-of-pocket cost to you.
How Solv can help with mental health
Booking a video visit with providers through Solv Plus or connecting to an urgent care clinic can be another productive first step for people struggling with mental health. Speaking with a provider can help you begin to address symptoms and discuss possible next steps for your long-term mental health care plan, as needed. Providers also can talk about referrals or direct people facing immediate crises to the emergency room.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count (Updated May 9, 2022) https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html
- Special Series, Russia-Ukraine recap, A Quick Look Back At the Day’s Developments https://www.npr.org/series/1084620843/russia-ukraine-recap
- What If Roe Fell? https://reproductiverights.org/maps/what-if-roe-fell/
- Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/
- Why Gen Z Is More Open to Talking About Their Mental Health (March 25, 2021) https://www.verywellmind.com/why-gen-z-is-more-open-to-talking-about-their-mental-health-5104730#citation-2
- Stress In America™ Generation Z (October 2018) https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2018/stress-gen-z.pdf
- Is a Vitamin D Deficiency Causing Your Depression? (January 12, 2022) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/depression-and-vitamin-d#risk-factors
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
- Mental Health Benefits of Nature (2020) https://namica.org/blog/mental-health-benefits-of-nature/
- 8 Mental Health Trends to Watch in 2022 (January 3, 2022) https://psychcentral.com/health/mental-health-trends-to-watch-in-2022
- Why American Teens Are So Sad (April 11, 2022) https://www.theatlantic.com/newsletters/archive/2022/04/american-teens-sadness-depression-anxiety/629524/
- Social Media Is Attention Alcohol (September 12, 2021) https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/09/social-media-attention-alcohol-booze-instagram-twitter/620101/
- Therapists are on Tik Tok. And how does that make you feel? (January 12, 2021) https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/12/well/mind/tiktok-therapists.html
- The Wellful https://www.instagram.com/thewellful/?hl=en
- Alex Elle https://www.instagram.com/alex_elle/?hl=en
- Post-Omicron Life Can Be Downright Maddening (February 14, 2022) https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2022/02/covid-precautions-stay-flexible/622082/
- Could therapy ease your coronavirus stress? How to decide, what to expect and where to find it. (April 27, 2020) https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/finding-therapy-coronavirus-stress-anxiety-anger/2020/04/25/4c00dd3c-866d-11ea-a3eb-e9fc93160703_story.html
- This is why it’s so hard to find mental health counseling right now (March 6, 2022) https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/03/06/therapist-covid-burnout/