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The Mental Health Benefits of Summer and Why Summer Break is Vital for Students

why is summer break good for students' mental health

Summer is in full swing, which means children, teenagers, and even some college students are back at home for a well-deserved break. There are many benefits of summer vacation for students, particularly in regard to their mental health. In fact, summer brings a myriad of benefits for everyone’s personal well-being, no matter your age or occupation. To help welcome the start of the season, we outline the mental health benefits of summer below.

The Science of Sunshine

Before we unpack the benefits of summer break, let’s first explore the incredible advantages of spending time in the sun. 

First, the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays nourish the body with Vitamin D. This, in turn, helps the body build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and brain cells. Vitamin D also helps to regulate a person’s mood, reduce negative emotions, and fight off disease with its antioxidant properties. In fact, some doctors may prescribe daily doses of sunlight to help alleviate the symptoms of depression.

Sunlight also regulates melatonin levels in the body, improving one’s circadian rhythm and allowing them to sleep better at night. This plays an important role in a person’s mental health. Sleep is essential for healthy brain function and emotional regulation. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, has been found to be “both a cause and a consequence” of mental health disorders. As such, research suggests that people should aim to get an hour of natural light in the morning to reap the nighttime benefits.

Not only does sunshine increase melatonin production, it also boosts a chemical in your brain called serotonin. Serotonin works to give you energy throughout the day and promote positive emotions. Medical experts report that serotonin helps keep a person calm, positive, and focused, and therefore apply natural light to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other types of depression.

In the summer, we tend to spend more time outdoors. This, coupled with the fact that the days are longer, allows us to reap more of the sun’s health benefits during these warmer months. From improved mood to immune function, better sleeping patterns to easier relaxation, the sunlight—and subsequently, the summer—can indirectly enhance one’s mental wellbeing.

The Mental Health Benefits of Summer

Summer is scientifically-proven to enhance one’s mood, bring peace of mind, and support overall mental well-being. Below are some of the specific benefits of summer on one’s mental health.

  • Increased Exposure to Sunlight

Summer means increased exposure to sunlight, for longer periods of time. Sunlight helps the body produce vitamin D, which is essential for mood regulation and overall mental health. Additionally, sunlight also helps boost serotonin production, which again works to improve mood.

  • Enhanced Physical Activity

Summer weather encourages us to get outdoors, and being outdoors often involves more physical activities like walking, swimming, hiking, and sports. As we’ve previously covered, regular physical activity is known to elevate mood and promote good mental health, as well as reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

  • Connection with Nature

The more we are outdoors, the more we are able to connect with nature. As such, the mental health benefits of nature really peak in the summer months. Spending time in nature offers therapeutic effects, including reduced stress, anxiety, and depression as well as increased overall well-being. Natural environments also provide a calming and restorative effect, helping to reduce mental fatigue.

  • Social Interaction

Summertime also brings more social events and opportunities to connect with friends and family. This enhances a person’s feelings of belonging and happiness. Events like festivals, barbecues, and community gatherings increase social interaction and support, contributing to better mental health.

  • Increased Leisure Time

For children, teenagers, and college students, summer means a well-deserved break from school. For many adults, too, summertime is often used to take vacations from work. In either case, summer offers the unique opportunity to relax, recharge, and reduce stress levels. The longer days and nice weather also allow more time for pursuing hobbies and interests that bring joy and fulfillment.

  • Better Sleep Patterns

The extended daylight hours of summer also help support and maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, which leads to better sleep. Specifically, the long and light days actually help regulate sleep patterns and improve sleep quality, which is crucial for mental health. As we’ve previously uncovered, there is a deep connection between sleep and mental health – adequate sleep can support one’s mental well-being, while disrupted sleep can be a risk factor for mental illness.

  • Positive Outlook

Whether it’s due to an increase in vitamin D and serotonin, the warm feelings from the sunshine, or the excitement and anticipation around vacations, people often feel more optimistic and energetic during the summer months. While it may not be true for everyone, summer naturally brings a positive mindset, reduced stress, and general feelings of satisfaction.

Why is Summer Break Good for Students’ Mental Health?

Summer can offer a boost in mental well-being for anyone, regardless of their age or occupation. However, young people who are in school are especially inclined to the mental, social, and physical benefits that come with summer break.

Children, teenagers, and even young adults typically spend at least 175 days in a school classroom, equating to about half of the calendar year. Not to mention, school can be very stressful for many students, who are not only trying to succeed academically but also trying to navigate the challenges of growing up. Teenagers especially are going through many changes during adolescence, experiencing a wave of hormonal fluctuations and physical changes, discovering their identity and sense-of-self, all while balancing the pressures of exams, homework, extracurricular activities, and peers/social circles during the school year. 

Summer break offers a true “break” from many of these day-to-day stressors. Teenagers are able to relax, alleviate stress, spend time with loved ones, enjoy well-deserved time outdoors, and avoid burnout from the school year. This downtime is essential for maintaining good mental health and managing any negative symptoms due to anxiety, depression, stress, and more.

Of course, on top of these mental health benefits, students can also reap other benefits of summer, including increased physical activity, meaningful social interactions, exploration outside the classroom, time to pursue other passions and interests, opportunities to relax and recuperate, plus the opportunity to participate in new pursuits like volunteer work, a summer job, camp, and community programs.

Overall, summer vacation is a valuable period for students to rest, grow, and develop in various aspects of their lives, all outside the school setting. This helps them reset and lay the foundation for the next academic year.

A Note on Seasonal Depression

There are several types of depressive disorders, the most common being major depressive disorder (MDD) which persists for long periods of time and involves enduring feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Another type of depression, which presents with similar systems, is seasonal depression (formally known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD). This type of depression occurs at certain times of the year, typically during the fall and winter when days are colder and daylight hours are shorter.

As you might expect, the symptoms of seasonal depression are reduced or go away during the summer months—underlining the innate benefits of summer on one’s mental health. This, again, is due to the effects of sunlight on a person’s brain. Sunlight exposure regulates melatonin and serotonin levels in the brain, ultimately stabilizing one’s mood, regulating one’s sleeping patterns, and promoting good mental health. To treat SAD, clinicians will therefore use light therapy – in combination with psychotherapy methods and life skills training – to alleviate those difficult, depressive symptoms.

Summer is Here: Let’s Reap the Benefits

Whether you are going through a hard time, experiencing symptoms of depression, or facing an ongoing battle with mental illness, you can benefit from spending time outdoors during the summer months. Clinical experts recommend spending 20 to 30 minutes outside in the morning sun to take advantage of the mental health benefits. Early in the day, sunlight exposure can help to reset your circadian rhythm, improve your mood, and increase your energy levels.  

Of course, summertime and sunlight is not a cure-all. While there are many benefits to the summer months, it’s important to seek help if you are facing the symptoms of a mental health disorder. Mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions can be treated and managed with ongoing therapy and care. If you or a loved one is struggling, do not hesitate to reach out. Turnbridge can listen to your concerns and needs, and offer guidance on what to do next.

Turnbridge is a preeminent treatment center for teenagers and young adults struggling with substance use and mental health disorders. You may explore our programs online or contact us at 877-581-1793 to speak with a treatment specialist.