Tell people you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and they’ll probably assume that you get depressed during the winter months. But, for a very small number of seasonal depression sufferers, it is summer that makes them sad.
5% of Americans experience SAD, with less than 1% of them having “reverse SAD,” depression associated with the summer season. Some of the SAD symptoms are shared: depressed mood, problems focusing and thinking clearly, and an overall sense of being unwell. But people with winter SAD often feel fatigued, need significantly more sleep than usual, and have an increased appetite. Conversely, people with summertime SAD tend to experience insomnia, lack of appetite, and feelings of anxiety or agitation.
Summertime SAD can also make people feel isolated. People seem to relate to winter SAD, but few understand the pure joy that summer SAD people feel after the Autumn Equinox, when sunlight hours start to dwindle and the nights become longer.
Science hasn’t quite figured out why people get SAD in the summer. It could be over-sensitivity to light – many summer SAD people say that are more affected by summer’s bright light than they are by heat and humidity. They may experience bright light as a physical presence, saying that it is “sharp,” “heavy” or both. A bright, sunny sky is not a happy thing to someone with summer SAD.
That said, the high temperatures and humidity do have some impact on summer SAD symptoms. Lower temperatures – a chilled movie theatre, a dive into a pool, a cold bath/shower – tend to calm the anxiety and edginess that is the hallmark of summer SAD.
Medical researchers also feel that allergies may trigger seasonal SAD in the summer, or that summer’s long days may cause (or worsen) insomnia by suppressing the release of hormones associated with sleep.
There are few medically-sanctioned treatments for reverse SAD. Those with winter SAD often find relief through light exposure therapy. This is obviously of no use to those who react badly to long, sunny summer days. “Dark therapy” – staying inside in a dim room with fans and AC set on full blast may help for a while, but the effects fade the moment you step outside.
So how do you manage SAD? First and foremost, don’t hesitate to get help. Depression isn’t something to ignore in the hopes it will go away, and summer SAD can transform into a major depression, particularly if you have previously experienced clinical depression. Find someone to talk to who can help you manage your symptoms. There’s no need to be miserable for three to four months out of the year.
(If you think you may need help coping with your symptoms but aren’t sure, don’t know where to go for assistance, or want to connect to source of trustworthy health and fitness advice – consider a telemedicine plan from dentalplans.com.)
You can also plan for summer SAD. Think about what changes you can make in your bedroom to make it easier to sleep, such as light-blocking curtains, a new fan, or cooling bed linens. Consider whether you need to take time off in the summer to de-stress, or would prefer to hunker down and get work done so that you can later enjoy a cool weather vacation.
Avoiding physical activity can make SAD worse. If you’re skipping your daily walk or workout due to not wanting to venture outdoors, or due to feeling too lousy to do anything more taxing than suck on an ice cube, you’ll likely end up feeling even more depressed.
Find a way to maintain your health and fitness. Figure out if you can exercise earlier or later in the day, or perhaps head to a nearby pool to swim or air conditioned mall for a walk. Maybe you’d like to join a gym during the summer months. Maybe you’ll switch from jogging to something soothing like yoga.
Think about healthy foods that you’ll enjoy eating even in the heat, and make a plan to keep them in stock in your fridge. Perhaps find some healthy takeout options for days when you’re not up to making even a smoothie or a salad.
And work out what things you really need to do in the summer, and prioritize those activities. If you hate summer barbeques, pool parties, concerts and other hot weather “fun” – skip them. You don’t have to be a hermit, there are plenty of nighttime summer activities that will get you out of the house and won’t make you feel overstimulated or queasy.
Apart from the above, just go with the flow and remember that this too shall pass. The days will grow short, the sunlight will dim, and when everyone else is complaining about gray skies and chilly winds you’ll be all smiles again.