What to Do When Your Summer Reality Doesn’t Live Up to Expectations


The new normal is coming just in time for a safe and social redo of last year’s isolated summer. With it, the answer to that question is going from a far-off hope to a potential reality.

Travel, concerts, parties, and whatever else you fantasized about in those dark days all await. However, for a myriad of reasons, this summer may not be the whirlwind return to society you’ve had in mind—and that’s OK.

“People have felt the immense loss of fully engaging in their lives and are excited to reclaim those connections and activities, but it’s likely that some have set themselves up for disappointment by setting unrealistically high expectations of how active and productive they’ll be,” says Isabelle Morley, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist with her own practice. “It will be hard to live up to our own fantasies.”

There are also serious logistical reasons people may not be able to embrace summer as they planned. “People may have limited budgets because of job loss during the pandemic. Others may still be physically recovering if they contracted COVID-19. Some kids may require summer school due to the oddities of the school year,” says Mia Rusev, LCSW, CCTP, case therapist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.

This summer can act as a fresh start, but it requires care and self-awareness to make it one. Here’s how to manage your expectations for this summer and what to do if summertime sadness arises.

Be Realistic About What Activities Will Look Like

Simply because things are opening up, that doesn’t mean your favorite pre-pandemic activities will look the same.

“Some people have a fantasy that things will go back to ‘normal’ instantaneously and are putting an enormous amount of pressure on this summer to fulfill their unmet needs and result in happiness,” says Sage Grazer, LCSW, a licensed therapist specializing in relationships and co-founder of Frame, an online therapy matching service.

Listen to Your Needs

You’ve been through a terrible time and made it through. Shouldn’t you want to go out and celebrate it? Not necessarily or yet. There is a critical difference between wanting to want to immerse yourself in the world and actually feeling ready and willing to do it.

“Some people may feel hesitant about re-entering society while others have lost touch with their social network and have to rebuild or find new relationships. Give yourself permission to feel lonely and disappointed, and remind yourself that you have many more summers to see people, have fun, and fully live your life,” says Morley.

Avoid Comparison

No matter your needs, it will inevitably be difficult to see other people living new, louder lives. “If you feel like everyone else in the world is having fun except for you, don’t let this feeling spiral. You are not alone,” says Morley.

Curiosity may lead you to check social media more often and, ready or not, feel jealous of your friends’ adventures. It’s critical to remember that you do not see the fear and anxiety others may have. “People only tout their happiest moments—it looks like everyone around you is in ecstasy all the time. No one is going to post family arguments, financial difficulties, or other ‘dirty laundry,’” says Rusev.

Determine What You Want

So you know what other people are doing but how do you want to spend your summer? Rusev suggests creating a summer bucket list with things you and your pod wish to experience this summer. It can include activities such as playing a sport, going to a nearby park, or finally going to a spa.

If your funds or time are low, determine what the priorities on the list are and plan in advance to ensure you can do them.

Start With Small Goals

Once you have an idea of what you actually want to do or see, take tiny steps to get there. “If your big goal is to get to a music festival, start with something smaller like a gathering of a few friends locally as you take steps towards a larger goal,” says Grazer. “Identify the big picture goal and all of the smaller, digestible goals that will lead you there.”

Especially if the idea of going out still causes you stress—a very understandable response after so long avoiding it—ease into it by spending time outside with friends and family or assisting your neighbors, says Rusev.

By Sarah Fielding and Fact checked by Nicholas Blackmer