Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD, is often synonymous with winter. It’s no secret that the long dark days and cold nights can trigger inescapable feeling of depression, exhaustion and anxiety. However, summertime SAD is just as real.
Also known as major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal pattern, SAD is a type of depression correlating with seasonal change. While it is often linked with the reduced light and gloomy weather that winter brings, some people suffer from it as a result of increased sunshine and warmer temperatures, as well as societal pressure.
“SAD is known as “‘winter depression’ because the symptoms are usually more present during the winter,” says psychologist, author and therapist, Dr. Kalanit Ben-Ari. “However, 10% of people with SAD may have reversed symptoms, whereby they feel better during the winter, but worse during the summer.”
What causes summertime depression?
It sounds confusing, we know. In the winter, the lack of sunlight is what is believed to cause SAD, so how can it also affect people in the summer? Well, health experts have explained that SAD cases that occur during the summer months may be a result of too much sun.
This is because too much sunlight turns off melatonin production in your body. Melatonin is the hormone that drives your sleep-wake cycle, so the longer days brought by summer can cause a lack of melatonin in your body. Summer SAD also has some of the opposite side affects of winter SAD, which can cause weight gain and sleepiness among other symptoms. Instead, summer SAD can result in weight loss, difficulties with sleeping and just feeling miserable.
You may also be noticing some of the effects of summer SAD because of social reasons. If everyone around you is having fun and enjoying themselves – particularly post-lockdown as socialising resumes – this can make you feel guilty or ‘abnormal’ for feeling down.
“There is not a clear consensus about the causes of SAD, but I believe that body and mind are interconnected, so the cause is not purely physical,” says Dr. Ben-Ari. “Our body affects our mind, and vice versa. Past events in our life, as well as our current challenges and stress levels can also increase the symptoms of SAD. Yet, the longer daylight hours of the summer often leads to less sleep, more heat and humidity, and seasonal concerns over body-image are also cited as common triggers for SAD.”
How do I know if I have summer SAD?
It may be hard for some of us to distinguish whether we’re experiencing summer SAD or just feeling a little low. According to Healthline, you can tell whether you’ve got summer SAD if you’re experiencing any of the below symptoms…
Common symptoms of Summer SAD:
Speaking to MSNBC, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School said:”In its most severe form, people with summer seasonal depression may be more at risk for suicide than cold-weather SAD.”
Dr. Rosenthal added: “Suicide is more of a concern when people are depressed and agitated rather than depressed and lethargic.”
Improving your mental health is always a journey that requires a lot of love and care no matter what season we’re in. But if you do struggle particularly with SAD in the summer, then there are a few ways to treat it. Here are some tips on how to cope, according to experts and research…
1. Accept your feelings
The first step in treating your seasonal affective disorder is to recognise it for what it is, go easy on yourself, and practice some self-care.
2. Switch up your meals
According to research, healthy lifestyle habits can minimise SAD symptoms. This includes regular sleep, a healthy diet with lean protein, fruits, and vegetables and exercising, reports Healthline. Dr. Ben-Ari also recommends taking Omega-3 supplements while Mind stresses the importance of drinking plenty of water in order to stay hydrated.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Depression and anxiety can be rife for those experiencing summer SAD. One way health experts recommend treating this is by seeing a therapist. Trying to find the right therapist isn’t always easy but taking the initial step to do so is important. There are many different talking therapies that can be effective in treating SAD, including services available at mental health charity, Mind.
“Talking therapy is important in order to explore the root of the issue, and to offer the relevant treatment in order to process and relieve any kind of stress, trauma or anxiety that you’re feeling,” explains Dr. Ben-Ari. “If you are in doubt or are concerned about your mental health, it is always advisable to reach out for your GP or qualified therapist.”
4. Spend some time in the dark
Since research suggests that summer SAD could be linked to the exposure of too much sunlight, while winter SAD is believed to be a result of a lack of it (hence light therapy being a common treatment), it is suggested that spending more time in darkened rooms could help. If the room is both dark and cool, then it’s even better. A trip to the cinema, perhaps?
5. Use blackout blinds to help you sleep
Falling asleep when you’re feeling anxious or depressed is never easy, with your mind running with thought after thought. However, trying to get as much sleep as possible could make you feel a lot better, according to Dr. Ben-Ari. “Make enough time for the sleep that you need, and use blackout blinds to ensure complete darkness during the night, so you are not disturbed,” she says.
6. Exercise in the morning or evening
We all know that exercise is good for our mental health, but it’s particularly important to schedule your workouts accordingly when you suffer with summer SAD. “Exercise in the cooler part of the day to help to balance your body,” advises Dr. Ben-Ari. “Try to relax in the evening with meditation, or a cold swim during the day, for example.”