Tips For Handling The Summertime Blues

By Maggie Ethridge 06/27/19
Symptoms of summer-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD) include insomnia, weight loss, agitation, anxiety and reduced appetite.
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Woman with summertime blues sitting in the sun

While it’s expected that wintertime, with its long, dark days, cold weather that prohibits socialization, and stressful holidays, would co-habitate with depression - it’s not the only season of sadness.

Summer can bring on or increase depression, too, and just like in wintertime, there are coping mechanisms that can reduce the impact of the struggle.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is more commonly associated with winter months, can also relate to the summertime as well. Specifically called summer-onset SAD, Mayo Clinic notes the symptoms as insomnia, weight loss, agitation, anxiety and reduced appetite. 

If you have a family member with summer-onset SAD, have major depressive or bipolar disorder, or in some cases have a trauma associated with hot summer months, you may be more at risk for this mental health issue.

To reduce the impact of summer-onset SAD, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, M.D., who was the first psychiatrist to describe and label SAD, tells Self magazine that reducing light might be a key factor. While those who struggle with winter SAD can buy light lamps to increase their exposure, reducing exposure to bright lights is recommended for the hot months. 

A light sensitivity could also be a trigger for summer-onset SAD. It’s understood that light deeply impacts the brain and our hormones; melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” is released only when triggered by a dramatic light reduction, for instance. 

While there is not much research supporting possible benefits of light reduction, it is simple to experiment to see if it produces any positive effect. Dr. Rosenthal told Self, “These people [might] benefit from dark glasses, blackout shades in their bedroom, and other measures that reduce the amount of ambient light.” 

Traditional cognitive behavioral therapy can be an important tool for those with summer SAD. A therapist can assist in identifying triggers for worsening symptoms, as well as unearthing the most effective treatment. 

If the heat itself causes agitation or worsening symptoms, some people find that staying indoors during midday and utilizing cooling methods such as cold packs, air conditioning, and fans can be helpful. Swimming is a good option for both cooling down and assisting the body in balancing hormones that can worsen depression.

Those who experience summer-onset SAD and are already being treated for depression or anxiety with medication may find it helpful to work with their psychiatrist to increase their medication in the beginning of every summer, before the symptoms begin to present.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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