How To Recognize Summer Depression And What You Can Do To Manage It
Summer. It's when we get to enjoy cool activities rather than just dream about them. And that includes long warm evenings, outdoor barbecues, holidays, vacations and so much more.
So, after yearning for summer for months and months, it seems strange that anyone would feel depressed at that time of year. But for some people, that's exactly what happens, and it's anything but fun. Keep reading to learn how to recognize summer depression and what you can do to manage it.
What Is Summer Depression?
Summer depression is relatively self-explanatory. It is a form of depression that occurs specifically during the summer. In fact, it's a form of theseasonal affective disorder (SAD), and in the United States alone, it's estimated that 4 to 6 percent of Americans experience SAD.
The majority of these people experience the winter blues, while only 10 percent of these individualsexperience summer depression, often referred to as "reverse seasonal affective disorder."
Summer depression doesn't occur randomly, and it's believed that it returns at the same time each year, creating an observable pattern, which both patient and caregiver can identify.
Because summer SAD affects a small group of people, there haven't been too many studies examining this mental illness. But one thing's certain: for people with summer depression, when the temperatures rise, their mental well-being drops. And like any other form of depression, it's important to acknowledge and address this.
Summer depression recap:
- Summer depression is a seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Summer depression is not as common as winter depression
What Causes Summer Depression?
Although summer depression does seem strange and mysterious, some plausible factors have been gathered up in the medical community. These can explain why someone can feel depression despite thewarmer weather and an increase in sunshine. As it turns out, people are not only reacting to warmer temperatures, but to a whole slew of factors, which are associated with the summertime.
- Too much sunlight
During the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere, individuals can experience winter blues, and this has been attributed to the significant reduction of sunlight in these areas. But is the opposite possible, too? Can an increase in sunshine 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 is suggested that too much can negatively influence melatonin production, which in turn disrupts an individual's circadian rhythm.
But if too much sunlight only throws off our sleep schedules, how can 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 very important hormone: serotonin. You see, without proper melatonin production, serotonin levels go out of balance. And this is an important hormone that regulates mood.
Therefore, a domino effect occurs. When melatonin production is disrupted, so is serotonin production. And this can increase a person's risk for depression and mood disorders.
With all the fun of summer comes all the financial stress of summertime, too. Whether you're racking up debt for vacations, weekend getaways, concerts, eating out more, or even paying for child care, summer can be one expensive season. And this increase in spending can contribute to a decrease in your mood.
Thrown Off Schedules
Having a committed routine can help to stave off a person's experience of depression. However, in the summer, our schedules tend to get disrupted. If you're a parent, your children are probably out of school and at home most of the day. This can create a huge lifestyle shift.
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. And when you add to both of these factors the combination of summer parties, holidays, vacations and late nights out, you're sleep schedule is probably all over the map.
When summer finally arrives, sometimes it isn't everything we imagined and expected. In fact, we can dream big, but sometimes these dreams and musings create a summer that doesn't exist, and 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 very forgiving when it comes to hiding away our holiday weight gain. And even if you did your darnedest to stay fit and trim, chances are, your body isn't exactly ready for swimsuit season, or for all the shorter, lighter garments we're expected to wear.
What's worse, you might not fit into some of last year's pieces thanks to all the comfort food you enjoyed during the winter. These body image issues can contribute to summer depression.
With plants blooming and booming, there's a fair share of allergens floating around in that fresh summer breeze - just enough to make your summertime miserable, replete with feeling irritable, anxious and with a slew of symptoms that kill the summer mood.
Some like it hot, but for others, summer heat can be too hot. In fact, when heatis experienced as oppressive, it can feel exhausting rather than energize, and it can negatively impact your quality of life. Too-hot temperatures can prevent you from spending time outdoors or exercising as you used to. Cooking only makes your entire kitchen feel like an oven. And it can change your eating habits and disrupt your sleep.
In short, summer heat is anything but enjoyable and can make those two to three months unbearable.
Perhaps one of the 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 - as if there's something wrong with them.
Furthermore, if you envy your friends and family who get to enjoy fun summer get-aways, it can make you feel depressed about your situation.
But thecomparison is always going to be the thief of joy, and it's not different when you compare yourself to everyone soaking up the sunshine.
Summer Depression Causes Recap
Any of these factors may cause summer depression:
- Too much sunlight may interfere with key hormone production, including melatonin and serotonin
- Financial stress
- Thrown off schedules
- Feeling let down and disappointed once summer arrives
- Body image issues
- Heat intolerance
- Comparing yourself to others
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 since they are diagnosed with this type of SAD four times more often than men.
Who Get Have Summer Depression Recap
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 you can see, 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 one.
Now, let's look at how you can recognize summer depression.
How To Recognize Summer Depression
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:
- Distractions, like social media and television
- Losing weight
- 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 not very difficult for those people who experience it. Luckily, there are ways to cope with this hot time 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 to move you forward through your summer depression, rather than keep you stuck in it. Is there a park you want to visit? An upcoming concert? Whatever it is, schedule it in, and stick to it.
- Exercise: Getting your heart rate up and breaking a sweat can lift your mood, too. If the heat deters you from exercising, consider a short-term gym membership - just make sure it's air-conditioned! Or, consider exercising early in the morning before the heat becomes intense.
- Socialize: Socialization will mean different things to different people, but connecting with another human being is very 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.
- Relax: 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 take a cooling bath.
- Seek the help of a licensed professional: If symptoms are extreme and causing a serious and negative impact on someone's life, it's recommended to seek professional help to address the mental illness and create a personalized plan to cope with it. The professionals at Better Help are a great place to start.
Summer depression can make it difficult for certain individuals to enjoy the sunny season. But when you know how to recognize this seasonal affective disorder, and also know good coping skills, it's possible to not only live with summer depression but also to live well. All without having to ignore, suppress or feel ashamed about this mental illness.