If pop culture and social media are to be believed, there is no better season than the summer. Typical images of this sunny season consist of people lounging on the beach, taking road trips with friends, and watching fireworks on warm nights. Despite all of these perceived joys, there are many people who feel poorly mentally and physically during the summer months. This condition is known as summer-onset seasonal affective disorder.
You’ve likely heard of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, in the context of winter. People with wintertime SAD experience symptoms of depression such as lethargy and sadness during the winter months when there is less sunlight and the cold keeps them inside for long periods of time. While estimates indicate that between 5% and 10% of the U.S. population experience winter SAD, only about 1% of the total population have the symptoms in the summer.
Let’s take a look at what the symptoms of summer SAD are, why they occur, and how you can cope with them.
The Why And What Of Summertime SAD Symptoms
Both versions of SAD are closely linked to the body’s internal clock. The lack of sun in the winter can disrupt several light-mediated biological processes, such as your sleep-wake cycles and energy regulation. According to Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a SAD expert and clinical professor of psychiatry, the abundance of sun and extreme heat in the summer can have a similar effect.
Rosenthal also says that the modern affliction of a fear of missing out, or FOMO, can exacerbate the effects of summer SAD. You may see others posting about their fun summer activities on social media, such as spending an afternoon swimming, the fourth most popular recreational activity in the United States. As you scroll past this and think about your negative experience of summer, you may feel isolated, left out, and overly stressed.
The symptoms of summer SAD are typically the opposite of those that occur with SAD in the winter. People with winter SAD tend to oversleep and overeat while feeling listless and gloomy. Those with summer SAD more often experience insomnia, a loss of appetite, and feelings of agitation and anxiety.
Researchers believe that the insomnia present with summer SAD stems from too much sunlight disrupting your body’s production of melatonin. As one of your body’s 50 types of hormones, melatonin is the hormone that drives your sleep-wake cycle. Your body produces it at night, so longer days can mean less time for melatonin production.
How You Can Treat The Summertime Blues
Luckily, there are proactive treatments for summer SAD so that you can feel better well before the heat breaks. As an influx of sunlight is the primary culprit of summer SAD, spending more time in darkened rooms can alleviate your symptoms. You may miss out on a summer picnic or two, but taking this time to recharge can help you feel better and allow you to participate in more summer activities.
Staying cool is another effective way to combat SAD during the summer, as oppressive heat is often responsible for feelings of anger and anxiety. Start by ensuring that your HVAC unit is the right size to cool your entire home. Use your home’s square footage and the BTUs of the unit as a gauge. For instance, a home with 1,100 square feet requires about 21,000 BTUs and a 2,1000 square-foot home needs a unit with 34,000 BTUs.
To keep the cool air in, be sure that your home has energy efficient windows. By replacing standard windows with their more efficient counterparts, you can stay cool while also seeing a seven to 15% decrease in your energy bills. By staying cool during the hottest parts of the summer, you may be able to even out your moods and feel less anxiety during this warm season.
Even simply planning out your summer with fun activities can alleviate the stress of feeling like you aren’t properly enjoying these warm months. Try to plan affordable activities inside so that you stay shaded and cool, rather than overwhelming yourself with an expensive vacation on the beach that will ultimately cause you anxiety.
Of course, seeking professional help can help you manage your symptoms as well. If you think that you’re experiencing summer SAD, schedule an appointment with a therapist to talk about your symptoms or see your doctor to evaluate whether depression medication would be effective for you.
Most importantly, don’t ignore your symptoms. What starts as summer SAD can transform into a long bout of major depression. Even if that isn’t the case for you, spending three months in a depressive state can impact your life for months afterward. Take the steps to prevent your symptoms before summer sets in and remember to not beat yourself up for feeling the way that you do. No season is perfect for everyone and despite popular opinion, summer is no exception.