What is Summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder or Summer Depression?
It is quite common for some people to experience depression with the change of seasons. Most recently, this type of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has been referred to as major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal patterns.(1,2) Most such cases are related to winter when the days tend to be shorter and gloomier, and the nights are longer, with the cold keeping people holed up inside their homes instead of outdoor where they can bask in the sunlight.(3, 4) This often results in feelings of sadness, lethargy, and a feeling that you will never see the sun again. Why this exactly happens still remains unknown, though most of the evidence points to the decrease in sunlight that affects the body’s circadian rhythm in the winters. The circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle that drives your sleep and wake schedule and drops the body’s serotonin levels as it gets nearer to bedtime. Serotonin is the chemical in the brain that affects your mood.(5, 6, 7)
People who experience seasonal affective disorder during the winters tend to feel gloomy and listless and also experience changes in their eating and sleeping patterns. People with major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern have also reported experiencing loss of appetite, insomnia, anxiousness, or agitation. But what happens in the summertime, SAD?(8)
Since sunlight is believed to be the critical component in seasonal affective disorder, it is thought that the cases of depression that happen during the summer months are likely to result from too much sun exposure. Too much sunlight turns off the body’s melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that is responsible for driving your sleep-wake cycle. Even turning on the light during the middle of the night to use the bathroom is sometimes enough to pause the production of melatonin. In the summer months, longer days means lesser hours for the body’s melatonin factory. In addition to the sun disrupting the circadian rhythm of the body, the summer heat has also been found to cause anxiousness and an increase in anger in people living with MDD with seasonal pattern.(9, 10)
Who Gets Summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder or Summer Depression?
Some people are more likely to develop both types of seasonal affective disorder. Some of the common risk factors for summer onset MDD with seasonal pattern include:
Living Closer To The Equator: According to an old study done in 1984, people who lived in hotter areas were more likely to develop summer onset MDD with seasonal pattern as compared to people who lives in areas with cooler temperatures.(11)
If You Are A Woman: Females have been found to be more prone to be affected by MDD with seasonal pattern than males. However, men tend to report more severe symptoms.(12)
Having a History of MDD With Seasonal Pattern In The Family: Having a relative who suffers from MDD with seasonal pattern puts you at a higher risk of developing the condition. Research has shown that there is a genetic component to getting the illness.(13)
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder or Summer Depression
The symptoms of summertime seasonal affective disorder tend to vary from person to person but typically include feeling depressed for the majority of the day, almost every day. Having low energy levels, losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy earlier, having difficulty concentrating, and feeling worthless or hopeless. Additionally, people with summer-pattern seasonal affective disorder may also experience:
- Lack of appetite, which leads to weight loss
- Instances of violent behavior
Doctors may diagnose and treat an individual for summer pattern seasonal affective disorder if you have the following:
- Symptoms of major depression.
- Depressive episodes that happen during the summers only for at least two years in a row.
- You have depressive episodes more frequently during the summer months instead of at any other point in the year.
How To Know If You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder or Just Summer Blues?
Even if a person does not have depression, they may still go through a less extreme version of warm weather mood fluctuations, which are referred to as the summer blues. However, this is not an official diagnosis since the symptoms, by definition, are not as severe to be categorized as clinical depression. According to medical experts, it is challenging to estimate just how many people get affected by the summer blues.
The symptoms of the summer blues are very similar to seasonal affective disorder, such as lack of energy and low mood, but the symptoms are less debilitating.
Just like summer pattern SAD has a range of causes, summer blues also can be caused by various reasons. The gloominess is likely to stem from schedule changes, including having lesser or more disrupted routines in the summertime. And having a routine is very important in preventing depression.
For example, parents of young children may suddenly find themselves having to entertain their kids during the workday instead of sending them to daycare or school. In the case of students who are on summer vacation, the students no longer have any activities or classes to keep them occupied during the day, which may lead to depression. Nevertheless, for many people suffering from summer blues, these disruptions are stressful.
The weather is a big contributor to summertime blues. Many people are unable to tolerate the heat and humidity, which causes them to hole up in their homes, and they tend to avoid cooking or exercising due to the weather. Inactivity, isolation, and unhealthy eating habits all contribute to low energy levels as well as low mood.
As is the case for seasonal affective disorder, shorter nights and longer days can further cause interruption to sleeping patterns, which also decreases energy levels during the day.(16)
Treatment for Summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder or Summer Depression
There are many different treatments for major depressive disorder seasonal pattern that range from antidepressants to staying in air-conditioned locations. Some of the treatment methods include:
- Air-Conditioned Places: If you want to avoid a hike in your utility bill, consider going to the movies. Movie theaters are dark, and the thermostats are usually set to the coldest temperature possible.
- Dark Rooms: The proposed process of summer-onset MDD with seasonal pattern is known to be connected to sunlight. This is the opposite of winter MDD with seasonal pattern. This indicates that the preferred environment is also different. So instead of light therapy, people with summer onset MDD with seasonal pattern are advised to spend more time in dark rooms. However, the timing of light exposure during the day is also considered to be important for a successful treatment.
- Get Proper Help: Talking to a doctor or therapist can help you manage the stress during seasonal change, find healthy coping strategies, and learn how to stay positive during this time. Consulting a doctor will help you manage the feat of missing out on the summer activities that your friends are enjoying.
Here are some tips to help you cope with summertime SAD.
Identify Your Triggers
Determining what triggers your summertime depression can help you narrow down the best coping strategies. Some of the potential triggers include humidity and heat, body image issues that are worsened by wearing warm-weather clothes that show more skin and the financial stress related to a need for taking more vacations in the summer.
One of the toughest parts of summertime SAD is that people are expected to be at their happiest in summer. This causes people who experience summertime depression to feel bad about feeling depressed during this time. The exposure to intense and direct sunlight is also a known trigger for summertime depression. Some doctors believe that wearing sunglasses outside during summer can help.
Get A Good Night’s Rest
People suffering from summertime depression may develop irregular sleep schedules or insomnia. The long, sunny days followed by warm nights can make it challenging to sleep properly, which is known to have an impact on your mental well-being. Putting your sleep schedule first and regulating your sleep can help improve your mood. Using online relaxation aids and apps can help you get some sleep. Listening to white noise can also help calm your mind and promote sleep.
One good way to develop a good sleeping routine is to completely stop using any form of technology before bed. Using laptops, tablets, and smartphones before getting ready to sleep can disrupt the production of melatonin and increase your stress and anxiety. This makes it more difficult to go to sleep.
There are many studies that suggest that an overproduction of melatonin in the body has a role to play in the development of seasonal affective disorder. This is why you may benefit from taking a low dose of melatonin (1 to 5 milligrams) an hour before going to bed if you are having disrupted sleep that is affecting your health. Melatonin is known to help restore the body’s sleep-wake pattern.(17, 18)
Establish A Routine and Try To Follow It
Living your life in a consistent routine can go a long way in making you feel more put together and motivated. However, this is usually easier said than done for people who have depression. For people with depression, a schedule should be very basic – have a regular wake-up time, followed by brushing your teeth and a fixed bathing time. You should also schedule your medications and bedtime. After this, if you are comfortable enough, you can add the time for family, social life, exercise, and any other creative pursuits you might be having.
If you are worried about not being able to stick to your routine, here are some tips:
- Write down your routine in a planner or calendar.
- Use a scheduling app.
- Set reminder alarms for different parts of your routine.
- Write down memos for yourself and leave them around the house.
It can be hard to have summer depression and feel out of step with everyone else. It is normal to feel left out of summertime activities and watch your friends and family enjoy themselves as you are unable to come out of the persistent feelings of sadness. It is important that you don’t beat yourself up over this. Have a very low threshold for seeking professional help. It is very common for people with summertime depression to mistakenly believe that their depression symptoms are minor and they will go away with time when they are actually very significant and are having a huge impact on your life.
So, regardless of whether you think you may have the summertime blues of summer-patter seasonal affective disorder, it is important to see a mental health professional who can help you understand your condition and prevent your symptoms from transforming into a more severe mental health issue. Concentrate on what is triggering your summer depression so that you can discuss the triggers with your doctor and understand how to overcome and avoid these triggers. Remember that there are several treatments for summertime depression that help blunt the effects of your seasonal depression symptoms. Treatments like psychotherapy and medication, or even meditation and cognitive therapy can help you banish away the summer blues for good.
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