This week marks the beginning of that stretch of year often referred to as the Dog Days of Summer. In ancient times, the Greeks noted that this period of time (July 12 to August 20 on our current calendar) followed the appearance of the star Sirius—often called the Dog Star. It was a time associated with drought, heat, mad dogs, bad luck, malaise, lethargy, and sudden, ominous thunderstorms.
You might already be feeling the symptoms in the air. Likewise, you might also be feeling these symptoms in your mind and heart—stuck, tired, worn down, full of worry and anxiety. It can be a difficult place to climb out of. You might even feel like you’re trapped in an endless pit of misery.
Fortunately, there are many tools available to help you make it through this drought of emotion and eventually find yourself feeling cooler, calmer, invigorated, and ready to face life. Here are ten different tools to try.
Start small, perhaps picking just one or two to master the first few weeks. Gradually try out and add new tools to your arsenal one by one in the days that follow. Soon, you’ll feel cooler, calmer, and ready for the next season in your life.
1. Do the most important task of the day first thing in the morning.
Not only do you have more natural energy first thing in the morning, but doing the most important thing right off the bat sets the mood for the day. You’ll feel accomplished early on, which will encourage you to do more and will provide an underlying feeling of well-being.
2. Take a 15-minute walk whenever you start to feel stifled.
A change of space often leads to a change of mood. Additionally, getting even a little bit of exercise every day has been proven to improve your health and your mood. A 2013 report from Harvard Medical School, explains that “low-intensity exercise sustained over time . . . spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better.”
3. Create a sleep routine and stick to it.
Healthy adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. The best way to ensure this happens is to make it part of your routine. Wake up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time each night—even on the weekends.
Keeping a schedule will help regulate your body’s internal clock, which in turn will make falling asleep and waking up easier. Check out my five essentials for getting better sleep here. And if you’re still not convinced, read about the dangers of sleep deprivation—and the benefits of healthy sleep—here.
4. Do one thing at a time.
For years, we convinced ourselves that multitasking was a special skill that made us more productive and better able to do everything all the time.
Today, however, we have mounting evidence that multitasking is actually dangerous and effectively makes us less efficient at many things rather than efficient at any one thing. Guy Winch (PhD), author of Emotional First Aid: Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries, says it would be more realistic to call multitasking “task switching.” “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,”
Guy Winch says. “It’s like a pie chart, and whatever we’re working on is going to take up the majority of that pie. There’s not a lot left over for other things, with the exception of automatic behaviors like walking or chewing gum.”
5. Work in spurts.
When the days are long and hot or your energy is low and wavering, it can be difficult to do any task—especially the hard ones. To pace yourself, try doing jobs in segments or even “sprints.”
Tell yourself you are going to work diligently on one thing for a set amount of time, and then allow yourself to take a break. Use an alarm clock or timer to define the time.
6. Cut back on the caffeine.
If you can, try reducing your caffeine intake. Many of us rely too heavily on caffeine to fuel our days and stabilize our mood. Take a serious look at the amount of caffeine you “need” to make it through your day and then consider whether that might be a problem. If you’re using caffeine to self-medicate, slowly work to replace some of it.
You might be surprised to find that replacing 1 cup of afternoon coffee or 1 sugary soda with a handful of cashews and a bowl of fresh summer berries gives you just as much energy as the former.
As a bonus, that energy typically lasts longer, doesn’t make you jittery, and won’t keep you from falling asleep later that night. Read this to get a nutritionist’s perspective on caffeine and how much is too much.
7. Cut back on social media.
Comparison is said to be the thief of joy. If you find yourself scrolling through Instagram and becoming increasingly discouraged about your own life as it compares to the photo-shopped, glammed-up, and filtered feed on your friends’ timelines, it’s probably time to turn off your phone and head outside for the walk mentioned above.
Or, better yet, call a friend on the phone and meet up in person.
8. Think of everything as a choice.
Saying the word can’t all the time will lead you to believe that you really can’t do something. Instead, think about why you won’t do something or why you don’t want to do something.
Use those words instead so you slowly stop believing that things are impossible.
Eventually, you’ll come to see what obstacles are in your way and you’ll be able to start working through things instead of immediately discarding things as being impossible.
9. But also learn to say no.
This one goes hand-in-hand with number 8. When you say no or I don’t do that instead of I can’t or It’s too hard, you are actually giving yourself power to be more productive and to let the things that are most important to you—and your well-being—remain at the top of your list.
A 2012 study, in fact, found that empowered refusal actually encourages goal-directed behavior. Read here to learn more about how to say no.
10. Count your blessings.
Be deliberate about counting your blessings. Find a decorative box or a glass jar or a tin can—any container will work—and keep it near your bedside with a small stack of sticky notes and a pen.
Each night before bed, write down two things you are grateful for from that day, fold up the sticky note, and drop it in the container. Even if the overall day was miserable, try to think of at least one thing that helped you get through it.
Sometimes that one thing might simply be the set of cool sheets you’re about to lie down on. Every two weeks, read through the notes. You’ll be amazed at the pick-me-up it gives you and at how even the roughest of days often have something in them to be thankful for.
To learn 10 more ideas for getting through life—and the long, hot days of summer—check out my Emotions Mentor podcast with Lassen Aria Phoenix.