It’s June; the school year is coming to a close for many, summer activities are in full swing, and many people seem to be relishing in the heat and freedom a more flexible summer schedule may bring. However, if you’re someone who experiences seasonal depression in the summer, you may find that you’re either pretending to be as excited as those around you as the temperatures rise or maybe you’re overtly dreading the next few months.
What is Summer SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder or “Seasonal Depression” as it is more commonly is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern that tends to occur at the same time each year. Seasonal depression or SAD tends to be something we hear more about in the winter. And for good reason: many of the people who experience seasonal depression experience it in the winter, but there are actually two types of SAD:
- Fall-onset: This is also called “winter depression.” Symptoms of depression begin in the late fall to early winter months and ease during the summer months.
- Spring-onset: This is also called “summer depression.” Symptoms of depression begin in late spring to early summer.
And while seasonal depression is more common in the winter months, 10% of people who experience seasonal affective disorder experience a spring or summer onset of symptoms. My friends who love summer would insert themselves at this point as ask, “But WHY? How can you not love summer!?” There are several reasons why someone may experience seasonal depression in the summer.
What Causes Summer SAD?
Researchers haven’t landed on one specific cause for summer SAD – likely because there is isn’t just one cause– , but the following are thought to be some potential risk factors and causes:
1. Biological Causes
Research has found that being a biological female, thyroid abnormalities, and/or a genetic history of family members with SAD have been linked to prevalence of summer SAD.
2. History of depression
Those who have a history of depression (not seasonal) are at an increased risk for experiencing seasonal depression. This can be something to be vigilant about as seasons change.
3. Changes in Daily Routines
With some school and work schedules changing in the summer paired with more sun in the morning and at night, days can get jumbled and routines can be disrupted. Some doctors suggest that the changes in daily routines can disrupt sleep patterns, as well, which can contribute to summer SAD feelings.
4. Past Trauma (that occurred during summer months)
If you have previously experienced trauma or even just unpleasant memories that you associate with the summer, signs of the season may be enough to stir up reminders and feelings associated with that memory or event.
5. Heat and Humidity
While some people love basking in the sweltering temperatures, others of us find this part of summer to be stifling and oppressive. And when you dislike the heat AND feel like you can’t escape it, therein lies a recipe for “the ick.”
6. Too Much Sunlight
As noted earlier, the increase in sunlight can disrupt your daily patterns. Doctors have actually found that too much sunlight can disrupt our circadian rhythm, which is the reason behind the interrupted sleep, which can result in feelings of depression.
7. Social Pressures
Summer social pressures may look present depending on which phase of life we are in, but each phase experiences them! Whether it’s managing kids’ schedules, a work schedule, time off from school, or the desire and hope to “do enough to take advantage” of the warm weather, there always seems to be something vying for our attention in the summer. And while some may enjoy this pressure, others find it hard to balance relaxing with the pressure to *do all the things* in the summer.
8. Body Image Pressure/Issues
Many of us dress differently in the summer to accommodate the warmer weather, and with this shift can come an increased awareness and self-consciousness surrounding the way our bodies look in shorts, a bathing suit, a tank top. It can be challenging to be fully present in a moment or at an event when feeling uncomfortable in some of the clothes that are more typical in warmer temperatures.
Summer SAD Symptoms
Summer SAD often presents differently than winter SAD. While those who experience winter SAD may feel sluggish and “slowed down physically,” those who experience summer SAD may find they experience a more varied set of symptoms, like:
- Decreased appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased feelings of aggression
Summer SAD Treatment Options and Coping Strategies
You do not have to live with summer SAD year after year. If you believe you may have spring or summer-onset seasonal depression, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare provider. Your therapist or doctor can help determine the best treatment plan and coping strategies for you.
Some recommendations to ease your summer sadness:
If you feel like you need outside counsel, talk to a therapist or doctor. This can help you outline a specific treatment or action plan, which may include coping mechanisms, and in some cases, psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both.
Other coping strategies worth considering:
- Taking cool baths or showers
- Swimming in a cold lake (or pool!)
- Wearing dark sunglasses when outside
- Adopting a daily rhythm if your schedule is different than normal
- Be sure to get enough sleep
- Eating foods that nourish your body, mind, and soul
- Engage in movement you enjoy
- Make plans that you will look forward to throughout the summer (they don’t have to be elaborate vacations; it can be an outing with a friend, seeing a play you’re looking forward to, going to a concert, spending the day at a museum or even stores you like)
Sharing Your Struggle with Summer SAD
So, if you don’t find yourself jumping for joy when you open the weather app on your phone and see 90 degrees for 10 consecutive days with no rain in the forecast, I’m right there with you. Let’s break the stigma surrounding summer seasonal affective disorder and create a space for open conversations about mental health during all seasons of the year. We may be a smaller cohort, but our experiences with summer SAD are worth addressing and talking about. By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and exploring treatment options, you can will gain tools to address your summer depression, find hope, and regain a sense of joy during the warmer months.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
All images via Unsplash
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