How To Recognize Summer Depression And What You Can Do To Manage It
Summer, It’s 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, it may seem strange that anyone would feel depressed when it finally arrives. 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 late spring and summer months. It's considered to be a form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – often referred to as "reverse seasonal affective disorder." In the United States, it's estimated that 4 to 6% of Americans experience SAD. The majority of American adults with SAD experience symptoms in the winter, with only 10% of those affected experiencing summertime SAD.
Summer depression, just like holiday 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 experience summer depression tend to experience a decrease in their overall mental well-being when the temperature rises. 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 to 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), resulting in trouble sleeping and irregular sleep patterns.
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 control. When melatonin production is disrupted, so is serotonin production, which can increase the risk for depression, mood disorders, or other mental 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 an expensive season. This increase in spending may contribute to a decrease in 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 crazy. If you're a parent, your children are probably out of school and may be 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 these factors things like 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 that leaves us wondering, "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.
Some like it hot, but the heat of summer days is too much for others. 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 kitchen feel like an oven, which can change your eating habits and even disrupt 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.
How to Recognize Summer Depression
Summer depression, though it only affects a small percentage of the US population, is still a mental illness that can make the warm season unhappy.
Summer Depression Symptoms
Some of the signs of summer depression are specific to this type of seasonal affective disorder, and others are also common symptoms of depressive episodes. Here's a concise list of summer depression symptoms:
Weight loss or gain
Feeling that sunlight is too bright
Feelings of anxiety
Feelings of agitation
Feelings of hopelessness
Difficulty making decisions
Manic feelings, such as grandiose feelings and an elated mood
Sudden mood changes
Loss of appetite
Violent behavior (slamming doors, etc.)
Consistent feelings of sadness
Lack of interest in activities you usually enjoy, like sports, social events, etc.
Thoughts of suicide*
*If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7, or you can text the word “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
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 control your body's melatonin production. What's more, keeping your room cool and dark can ensure that you'll be well-rested.
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, plan ahead, 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 through releasing endorphins and that wonderful brain chemical dopamine, as well as norepinephrine and serotonin.
Socialization will mean different things to different people, but connecting with another person is helpful when feeling hopeless and down. 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
If your symptoms are too extreme and causing a serious and negative impact on your daily life, it's recommended that you seek professional help to address the mental illness and create a personalized coping plan. One of the most popular forms of therapy for treating depression is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A specialized form of CBT – called CBT-SAD – has been proven to help patients with seasonal affective disorder by first helping them identify their negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive thoughts. The process also uses behavioral activation, which helps patients identify things they find enjoyable to help them cope with the season (in this case, summer). More research has been done on winter SAD, for which light therapy is also often used to help individuals get more UV rays. However, research has found that CBT-SAD was more effective than light therapy and lasted longer.
When looking for help, the professionals at BetterHelp are a great place to start. You can obtain personalized, professional help without having to go to any treatment facilities. In fact, sessions can be held from the comfort of your own home or wherever you have an internet connection, which can be especially helpful if getting out in the heat makes your symptoms worse. Additionally, because our therapists do not have to pay to rent out offices, treatment facilities, or to run a non-public practice, BetterHelp is cheaper than many traditional, in-person therapy options without insurance. Online therapy also allows for more flexible hours as your schedule changes and needs shift. And studies have found that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy in many situations.
Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
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Summertime 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. You deserve to be happy. Get discreet and incognito counseling with one of their licensed professionals who really care. Take the first step with BetterHelp today.
Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:
Can summer give you seasonal depression?
What causes SAD in the summer?
Is it normal to be SAD in summer?
What season has the most depression?
What are the summer blues?
Why do I feel SAD when the sun goes down?
Why am I more anxious in the summer?
What time of year does SAD start?
What do you do when you hate summer?
Why do I feel lonely in the summer?