Summer Healing Properties
By Dr. Dipl. -Psych Sarah Fitzroy – English Psychologist in Berlin
Midsummer is a celebrated tradition in many cultures as the mid point of the year. Midsummer takes place at the time of summer solstice and is known in Germany as ‘Johhanistag’ to represent John the Baptist. There was a lot of superstition around midsummer as it was believed that midsummer plants contained healing properties. On the eve before, bonfires were lit and there was dancing. This tradition dates back to the 12th century as a way to ward off evil spirits from livestock, prevent disease and to protect the forthcoming harvest1.
Midsummer is an ancient ritual containing both healing and protective properties from olden times. However, it may also be applicable to modern times with regards to benefits for mental health and well being. Indeed the celebration of midsummer when the daylight hours are longest can naturally benefit the circadian rhythm which is responsible for the 24 hour body clock. Having more daylight hours in the day also means being outside more which can provide a sense of well-being.
The premise of healing plants suggests midsummer was also seen as a healing time and providing a sense of hope before the harvest and winter months. The winter months are when people struggle most with mental health which has been linked to Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and/or depression2. Indeed, depression is often characterized by a lack of hope for the future. Research has shown that depression can also result in perceiving the probability of experiencing positive events as low and negative events as high3. The theory of learned helplessness4 states that when people can become conditioned to believe a negative situation cannot be changed may explain why those with depression may attribute negative events to internal, stable and global causes and thus can be resistant to change.
Creating a sence of hope and optimism
Whether summer time can increase mental health as there is more hope and optimism for the future or due to the increased daylight, it definitely appears to be a time that we are happier. There is an overlap between the constructs of hope and optimism. Hope can often support goal directed behaviour by providing motivation and a sense of agency which can be helpful in treating depression. Whereas optimism is often perceived as a personality trait linked to extroversion and better mental and physical health5.
Hence, summer solstice is both a celebration of the summer light but has a lot to offer for mental health in terms of creating hope and optimism to provide resilience before the start of the winter months. It is also a time to be mindful and grateful of the happy summer days which may also provide a sense of hope during the darker winter days. If you are some one who does suffer with lack of hope during the winter months, then creating a sense of hope can be done in some of the following ways:
-Know your values: create time for yourself to figure out what is important such as your values as research shows those who live by their values often report higher levels of happiness6
-Creative Thinking: dedicate time to creative thinking as this has been linked to increasing hope7 as creative thinkers are used to coming up with different ways of problem solving
-Be nice to yourself: practise self-compassion, see Dr Kristin Neff’s website for ideas of how to practise ( https://self-compassion.org/
If you have depression or SAD9 during winter months, you may also wish to seek further therapeutic support to improve mood or try light therapy.*
To go deeper on the topic of light / summer healing properties
1.Alumni Porti Deutschland. Midsummer when in Germany St John’s fires burn. 2011.
5.Peterson C. The future of optimism. American Psychologist, 2000; 55(1): 44-55. Doi: 10.1037//0003-066x.55.1.44
8.Yang Y, Zhang M, Khol Y. Self-compassion and life satisfaction: the mediating role of hope. Personality and Individual differences, 2016, 98:91-95. Doi: doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2016.
*The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines does not state why light therapy is effective
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