Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a set of mental health symptoms that have become more colloquially recognized within our society. Typically, symptoms of “seasonal depression” are thought to show up when the weather turns colder and maintain throughout the winter months. You may start to notice yourself becoming more moody and losing energy, especially as the days get shorter. Typical symptoms for winter-time SAD include: irritability, tiredness, problems getting along with others, hypersentivity to rejection, a feeling of heaviness in your limbs, oversleeping, craving foods high in carbohydrates or alcohol, and weight gain. These symptoms can lead you to feel “down” for days at a time and limit your motivation to do things you once enjoyed during warmer days. Winter-time SAD is thought to be the result of changes to your circadian rhythm (as a result of a decrease in sunlight that may disrupt your body’s internal clock), a drop in your serotonin levels (also from a reduction of sunlight), and a disruption in your melatonin levels (which can affect your sleep and mood patterns).
As already mentioned, a number of people have heard about SAD and it’s symptoms related to colder weather, but what many people may not realize is that there is also a Spring and Summer-time version of the disorder. Common symptoms of this warmer weather variety include: depression, insomnia, weight loss, poor appetite, and general agitation or anxiety. Causes for summertime SAD are thought to be biological in nature OR the result of a disrupted and/or more hectic summer schedule. All those long weekends and summertime vacations are supposed to be fun, but often can just add more stress to our plates. Maybe you are a person who doesn’t really enjoy the heat or maybe your summer plans are turning out to be more expensive than you budgeted for. Perhaps you didn’t accomplish the ‘summer beach body’ that you started out striving for in February and now feel self-conscious in skimpier clothing. Regardless of what combination of stressors you could be facing this summer, SAD may be contributing to your depressed or changed mood.
Let’s work to make this summer different. You should always talk to a mental health professional if you think you are becoming depressed. These symptoms can impact your job, family, and most importantly, your quality of life. A professional would be able to assist with therapy and/or psychotropic medication. However, there are a number of things you can do, on your own, to combat summertime SAD. The unique thing about seasonal depression is that you know when it will hit and you can plan ahead. Organizing plans that don’t feel like you are over-doing it, budgeting for summer vacations and outings, developing and sticking to a schedule can all be ways to stay in control of your symptoms. Remembering your boundaries and limits can also be helpful; protect yourself from too many obligations. Tell people “no;” don’t push yourself to the point of feeling overwhelmed. Have realistic expectations for yourself and your body. Don’t push yourself into some extreme dieting and exercise routine, instead stay balanced without neglecting your fitness as a whole. Give yourself a break and remember that the summertime is meant to be an enjoyable time of year. Stress affects everyone in different ways, unfortunately for some, that’s in the form of summertime SAD. However, there are interventions that work, all it takes is a combination of allowing others to help you and a commitment to choosing what is healthy, all while cutting yourself some slack.
By Kaitlan Gibbons, Psy.D.