Summer time, and the livin’ is easy… right? Then why do you feel stressed, tired, and grumpy when your friends and co-workers are giddy about their time in the sun? If that’s how you feel, you may be one of the growing number of people suffering from Summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder.
“SAD affects about 5-6% of the US population,” says Irina Mezhebovsky, M.D., the director of Psychiatry at Boston Clinical Trials. “Most people suffer from SAD in the late fall and winter – as the days grow shorter and colder. But a large number of people get SAD in reverse – triggered by heat, humidity or simply by additional stress. If you feel loss of appetite, have trouble sleeping, experience increased anxiety — you may be affected by SAD. No matter whether it happens after Thanksgiving or around Independence Day, don’t wait the signs of depression out. Talk to your therapist or psychiatrist.”
What Causes Summertime SAD?
The causes of summer SAD could be both biological and psychological. In an article published at WebMD, Dr. Ian Cook, the director of Depression Research Program at UCLA names five causes of summertime SAD:
- Summertime SAD. Some people are biologically more susceptible to getting depressed in the summer. Experts aren’t sure why, but longer days, and increasing heat and humidity may play a role.
- Disrupted schedules. Vacations, however long-awaited and however well-planned, disrupt established routines and impose additional stress. College-age children may be back in the house, and you suddenly have to face them, their stuff, and their late-night absence after nine months of relative quiet. You may find yourself sleeping less and eating more — all of which can trigger summertime depression.
- Body image issues. Feeling embarrassed in shorts or a bathing suit can makes life more challenging for a lot of self-conscious people, and impose a major stress on some. What’s more, if you find yourself avoiding social situations for the fear of not looking as cool as you’d like to, you may be cutting yourself from the benefits of social interaction – which is often a power contributor to depression.
- Financial worries. Summers are expensive. Vacations, camps, babysitters. Decisions, sometime painful, need to be made. You may feel losing control over your hard-earned cash. Money conversations with your kids or spouses pile a new layer of stress.
- The heat. Your air-conditioned bedroom becomes a refuge and you cannot make yourself go for your usual walk or bike ride. You find yourself relying on takeout food and watch pay-per-view movies until you exhaust the menu. And you feel bad about what you do, because you know that you shouldn’t.
Tips for Taking Control of Summer Depression
It goes without saying that if your symptoms are severe or if you are already on medicine for depression talk with your doctor without delay. Sometimes, adjusting your dose or fine-tuning the prescription is necessary to bring back the enjoyment of summers.
What else can you do to take control of your depression? Sonya Hovsepian, M.D., a Study Coordinator at Boston Clinical Trials offers four tips:
Know yourself and your triggers. Everybody’s different and nobody knows you as well as yourself. If your feel worse in the summer, particularly, if you experienced it more than once, think about what specifically triggers depression: is it physical stress of heat and humidity? Is it emotional stress of responsibilities and obligations? Perhaps, painful associations of the past? Answering this simple question will put you well on the way to taking control. And being in control is a powerful feeling.
Do not skimp on sleep. The days are long and the nights are short. It is tempting to stay up late. But not getting enough sleep is a common trigger for depression. Be in bed on time.
Do not overreach. Keep up with your usual exercise and diet. Do not cram to fit yourself in the size you wore in high school. It is bound to make you unhappy and anxious.
Do not blame yourself. It is natural to blame yourself when everybody else is having fun. Don’t. The fact that you are depressed is not your fault. Some things are simply out of your control. Control what you can control and do not be shy to ask for help.
By Irene Axelrod, R.N., C.C.R.C