Arguably we can't have an end to something that didn't seem to begin, but summer is over – maybe not technically, but we're all pretty much agreed that it's unlikely we'll be marinading for another BBQ before the month is out.
For some, September means a time for positive change and renewal – we face a new academic year and a new football season with all the hope that can bring. But for many, the return to schedule and more clothing layers involves a crash in mood and a re-assessment of life that may not feel to be such a positive one.
I've returned to practice after my own summer leave to meet more than one client in an unsettled post-holiday frame of mind. Lara (a composite character) leads an over-committed, time-poor life that she feels trapped within. She works full-time, has a young family and increasingly demanding parents and spends the little free time she has deep in housework or DIY. We've been working together for a few years and now both know well the inevitable 'September blues' she suffers each year. The precious two week break in August she takes with her family affords her time to think, to read, to sleep properly, to forget emails and generally 'go slow'. She speaks of quality time with her children and partner that her non-holiday life offers only snatches of.
Her return home 'hits with a judder', and until she can make a change to her work/life balance – and she can't right now for logistical reasons – we continue to work at introducing her more settled and happy 'holiday self ' into her every day life. Encouraging Lara to 'go slow' and to savour her time is hard though – as it is with many of my clients. Pressures 'to do' mount up before we know it and corrupt opportunities to connect with ourselves and others – how can she relish a novel when she has a deadline looming/a homework project to help with/a wall to strip?
We have come to realise that for Lara, to connect with her 'holiday self' actually means examining her relationship with herself, full stop. The inevitable and unavoidable demands she feels she has in her life may begin to ease up if she is able to treat herself in the way she seems to do with others – with care, kindness, wisdom and compassion. Lara feels treating herself this way is 'self-indulgent' and she almost squirms when we examine this up close – we often resist linking ourselves with common humanity.
This way of relating to ourselves doesn't mean just eating better and exercising more (although of course these are important), but involves a more fundamental re-examination of how we can turn to ourselves inwardly when feeling stressed or torn in all directions. Can Lara tune into her own needs and vulnerabilities amongst the sea of others' she prioritises? Can she speak to herself with the warm inner tone she uses so easily with her loved ones?
It takes a courage and commitment to practice this self-enquiry, not least because many of us have to learn from scratch. But by saying 'no' on occasion, or simply hitting the pause button for a few moments - as against an automated response to imagined or real demands - we may just inch toward feeling more like we do on the beach each summer.
Julia Bueno is a therapist on the welldoing directory