Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression, is well-known for causing misery during the dark, cold days of winter, but it can also affect people in the summer. Summertime sadness, sometimes called summertime depression or reverse SAD, is caused by a disturbance in a person’s circadian rhythm, which determines a person’s sleep-wake cycle. For reasons we don’t fully understand yet, some people experience seasonal depression when the available amount of sunlight in their environment decreases or increases significantly.
Summertime SAD is much less well-understood than wintertime seasonal affective disorder. It’s important to note that people who develop wintertime SAD tend to not have summertime SAD. Although sunlight is a critical stimulus for the proper working of the body’s sleeping and waking system, we don’t fully understand why plentiful amounts of intense sunlight in summer can cause similar effects to its absence in winter, but in different people.
We do know that sunlight slows down the production of melatonin, a hormone necessary for sleep. Long days with lots of sunshine severely inhibits your body’s ability to produce melatonin. Although this shift in the amount of melatonin doesn’t cause problems for most people, for those with summertime SAD, it’s very disruptive.
However, scientists believe that just as some people experience SAD in winter when the weather forces people indoors and the short days are dark, some people are more likely to stay indoors in the summer, due to their extreme discomfort in the high heat of summer weather.
Are you SAD in the Summer?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, regardless of when it happens, is a type of depression. In fact, SAD is referred to in psychological diagnostics as major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. A person must experience depression emerging at the same time every year, along with all the other symptoms of depression, for at least two years. To make a correct diagnosis, it’s the pattern of depression symptoms, and when they emerge that’s critical in the case of SAD. That holds for wintertime and summer seasonal affective disorder.
About 1 percent of Americans have summertime SAD. Below are the common symptoms patients usually experience:
- Feelings of deep, unremitted sadness OR inexplicable anger and elevated levels of irritability
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Increased and intrusive anxiety or persistent dread
- Feeling unmotivated to complete tasks or overwhelming feelings of apathy
- Pronounced lack of pleasure in the activities that you used to enjoy
- Feelings of guilt or repetitive thoughts about suicide, death or loss
Coping with Summertime SAD
The best approach to coping with summertime SAD involves therapy with a professional mental healthcare provider and the following activities.
- Stay in motion. Regular exercise helps the brain produce endorphins, natural pain killers, as well as serotonin, the neurochemical that regulates mood. Any exercise that puts you in motion for 20 to 30 minutes can measurably improve your mood. You can exercise indoors or outside in the early evening hours when temperatures are cooler.
- Get plenty of rest. This can be challenging, as all forms of depression disrupt sleep. However, be mindful of your sleep habits. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day is helpful in keeping your circadian rhythm healthy.
- Don’t overdo dieting. Summer may be beach season, but fad diets that disrupt your intake of nutrients do much more harm than good. Stick to a healthy diet.
- Delegate responsibilities and avoid all the stress you can. When you know you’re going to be easily stressed out and frazzled, don’t hesitate to ask others for help.
- Go easy on vacation plans. Consider if you’re going on vacation for your pleasure or someone else’s happiness? It’s easy to get stressed over a vacation. After all, we put ourselves under a lot of pressure to have the best time possible. When you know your vacation is coming during a time of the year when you’re most vulnerable to depression, consider moving it.
If you have concerns about summertime seasonal affective disorder, speak with a mental healthcare professional. Some people find a slightly increased dose of their regular antidepressant to be helpful in cushioning the effects of seasonal affective disorder, while others find greater relief from alternative treatments that don’t require medication.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Depression
If you have depression that seems to follow a seasonal pattern, consider seeking professional assistance. There are many treatments for depression, including medication and psychotherapy. Alternative treatments, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), are great options. TMS is a painless, non-invasive, medication-free treatment for depression A powerful and precise magnetic field is applied to an area of the brain that regulates mood, helping decrease the symptoms of depression. Many people experience no side effects and significant relief. TMS was approved for the treatment of depression by the FDA in 2008.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
Seasonal Affective Disorder. (2020). Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml
Ducharme, J. (2018, June 05). Seasonal Affective Disorder Can Happen in the Summer. Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://time.com/5287625/summer-seasonal-affective-disorder/
Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression/Major-Depressive-Disorder-with-a-Seasonal-Pattern.
Martinsen, E. W., Medhus, A., & Sandvik, L. (1985, July 13). Effects of aerobic exercise on depression: a controlled study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1416251/.
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