How To Recognize Summer Depression And What You Can Do To Manage It
By: Mason Komay
Updated November 13, 2019
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley
Summer-when we finally get to enjoy the activities we look forward to all year. Long, warm evenings, outdoor barbecues, holidays, vacations and so much more make this season a memorable time.
So, after yearning for summer for months and months, it seems strange that anyone would feel depressed when it finally comes. But for some people, that's exactly what happens, and it's anything but a vacation. Read on to learn how to recognize summer depression and what you can do to manage it.
What Is Summer Depression?
Summer depression is a form of depression that occurs specifically during the summer season. It's considered to be a form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and in the United States alone, it's estimated that 4-6% of Americans experience SAD. The majority of American adults experience SAD during the winter months, yet only 10% experience summer depression, often referred to as "reverse seasonal affective disorder."
Summer depression doesn't occur randomly. It's believed that it returns at the same time each year, creating an observable pattern, which both the patient and caregiver can identify.
Because summer SAD affects only a small percentage of people, there haven't been many studies examining this mental illness. However, one thing remains certain: people who suffer from summer depression tend to experience a decrease in their overall mental wellbeing when the temperature begins to rise. And, like any other form of depression, it's important to acknowledge and address this issue.
What Causes Summer Depression?
Some plausible factors contributing to reverse SAD have been gathered throughout the medical community. This information might explain why someone can feel depressed despite the warmer weather and an increase in sunshine. After all, sunshine is a natural antidepressant. As it turns out, people are not only reacting to warmer temperatures, but situational factors associated with the summertime.
During the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere, individuals can experience the "winter blues," which has been attributed to the significant reduction of sunlight in these areas. But can an increase in sunshine actually lead toward depression?
The body's production of a key hormone, melatonin, is affected by our exposure to sunlight. And just as too little sunlight can impact someone's mental wellbeing, it's suggested that too much can negatively influence melatonin production, which in turn disrupts an individual's circadian rhythm (sleep cycle).
But if too much sunlight only throws off our sleep schedules, how exactly does it contribute to summer depression? Melatonin isn't just the "sleep hormone," as it's commonly referred to. It's the immediate precursor of another important hormone: serotonin. Without proper melatonin production, serotonin levels go out of balance, which causes a disruption in mood regulation. When melatonin production is disrupted, so is serotonin production, which can increase the risk for depression and mood disorders.
With all the activities of summer comes added financial stress for many. Whether you're paying for vacations, weekend getaways, air-conditioning bills, or even for childcare, summer can be a pretty expensive season. This increase in spending could contribute to a decrease in your happiness by adding massive amounts of stress you wouldn't otherwise have.
Having a committed routine can help to stave off a person's experience of depression. However, during the summer, our schedules tend to get pretty crazy. If you're a parent, your children are probably out of school and at home for most of the day, which can create a huge lifestyle shift.
Sleep is not the only important routine for people that can be disrupted by changes in activities and obligations. Similarly, if you have a job that allows you more free time in the summer, it may be difficult to know how to manage a more relaxed schedule. When you add to both of these factors, including the combination of summer parties, holidays, vacations and late nights out, your sleep schedule is going to be much less stable than other times of the year.
When summer finally arrives, sometimes it isn't everything we'd hoped for. In fact, we can dream big, but sometimes these dreams and musings create a summer that doesn't exist. When it does arrive, we can experience a letdown and a feeling of disappointment, asking ourselves, "Is this it?"
Body Image Issues
Winter fashion is usually forgiving to our bodies. Summer clothes are generally much more revealing. In wintertime, we tend to be less active, which can contribute to weight gain, and sometimes summer clothes from last season might not fit. These types of body image issues can contribute to summer depression, especially among young female adults.
With plants blooming, there's a fair share of allergens floating around in that fresh summer breeze. Oftentimes, this share is just enough to make your summertime miserable, replete with feeling irritable, anxious, and with a slew of symptoms that can kill the summer mood.
Some like it hot, but for others, the summer heat is too much. When people experience oppressive heat, it can feel exhausting rather than energizing, and it can negatively impact your quality of life. Extreme temperatures can prevent you from spending time outdoors and exercising as you used to. Cooking tends to make your entire kitchen feel like an oven, which can change your eating habits and even disrupt your sleep.
One of the biggest reasons why people get summer depression is because they feel a social expectation of enjoying summer, and when they don't, they feel both inadequate and flawed. Also, if you envy your friends and family who get to enjoy fun summer getaways while you're forced to stay home, it can make you feel depressed about your current social status.
Comparison is the thief of joy. It's not helpful to compare other people's picture-perfect images on social media to your own realities. It's unrealistic. If you knew how much everyone else was faking it, you wouldn't want to join them anyway.
Who Is Susceptible to Summer Depression?
While research is fairly new and limited when it comes to SAD, there seems to be a genetic component to summer depression. Two out of three individuals with SAD are related to someone with a major mood disorder, and a family history of depression makes it more likely that someone will develop SAD.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), younger adults, including children and teens, have a greater risk of having SAD, which can include summer depression. Women seem to be at a higher risk for summer depression, as they are diagnosed with this type of SAD four times more often than men.
Now, let's discover how you can recognize summer depression.
How to Recognize Summer Depression
As the body of research grows surrounding summer depression, so will our understanding of who's at risk for having this form of SAD. For now, we know these facts:
- Summer depression may have a genetic component
- Younger people are at higher risk for summer SAD
- Women seem to be at higher risk as well
Summer depression, though it only affects a small percentage of the US population, is still a mental illness that can make the warm season an unhappy time.
Summer Depression Symptoms
Some of the signs of summer depression are specific to this type of seasonal affective disorder, and others are also common depressive symptoms. Here's a concise list of summer depression symptoms:
- Losing weight
- Feeling that sunlight is too bright
- Feelings of anxiety
- Feelings of agitation
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions
- Manic feelings, such as grandiose feelings and an elated mood
- Loss of appetite
- Consistent feelings of sadness
- Thoughts of suicide
- Lack of interest in activities you usually enjoy, like sports, social events, etc.
How to Manage Summer Depression
Summer depression might be a temporary condition, but that doesn't mean it's any less difficult for those who experience it. Luckily, there are ways to cope with this hot time of year.
Let's look at some of them below:
- Get your Z's. To help prevent depression-induced insomnia, prioritize your sleep schedule. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Exposing yourself to bright morning light when you first wake up can help regulate your body's melatonin production. What's more, keeping your room cool and dark can ensure that you'll be well-rested.
- Wear protective eyewear. If the sunlight is too bright for you, be sure to wear dark lenses whenever you spend time outdoors. This can prevent eye discomfort and even headaches.
- Respect your schedule. Even though we can associate a strict schedule with a lack of freedom, it's just the opposite for some individuals with summer depression. Instead of being oppressive, a schedule can help you feel in control, and it can also help to lessen your feelings of anxiety and agitation.
- Plan a fun activity. Having something to look forward to can help move you through your summer depression rather than keep you feeling trapped. Is there a park you want to visit? An upcoming concert? Whatever it is, schedule it in, and stick to it.
If none of the above strategies seem to work for you, consider trying out some of these alternative solutions.
Getting your heart rate up and breaking a sweat can lift your mood. If the heat deters you from exercising, consider a short-term gym membership, or consider exercising early in the morning before the heat becomes intense.
Socialization will mean different things to different people, but connecting with another human being is helpful when you're feeling hopeless and down. This can mean a shopping trip, a walk through town, a phone call, or even a shared fitness class. Whatever it is, add "spending time with people" to your self-care list to help you cope with summer depression.
Set up a cooling fan, get comfortable and allow yourself to relax. By lowering your stress levels, you can relieve your symptoms of depression, too. You can meditate, listen to calming music, or even take a nice cooling bath.
BetterHelp Is Here for You (h3)
If your symptoms are too extreme and causing a serious and negative impact on your life, it's recommended that you seek professional help to address the mental illness and create a personalized coping plan. The professionals at BetterHelp are a great place to start.
Get discreet and anonymous counseling with one of their licensed professionals who really care. You deserve to be happy-let a professional at BetterHelp help. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
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Summer depression can make it difficult for some people to enjoy the sunny season. However, when you know how to recognize this seasonal affective disorder and how to cope, it's possible to not only live with your summer depression but to move forward and thrive. All without having to ignore, suppress, or feel ashamed about these feelings. Take the first step today.