Understanding and Managing Summer… | Counseling | Therapy

Understanding and Managing Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder (Summer SAD)

Understanding and Managing Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder (Summer SAD) image

Have you ever felt puzzled by increased feelings of sadness, anxiety, or irritability during the warmer months when the rest of the world seems to be in their prime? Surely you have heard about “the winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and how it can decrease your mood when the weather turns colder and the days shorter and darker. Perhaps what you could be experiencing is a phenomenon called Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder or ”Summer SAD” that the field of Psychology is just beginning to understand. Although some researchers are beginning to develop evidence that there could be a psychological process at play like winter SAD, many believe the psychosocial components of the pressure we feel to be joyful during the summer might actually be crushing our spirits.

Also known as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) with seasonal patterns or Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, Summer Type SAD is much less understood than its cold weather relative. What we do know about Winter-type-SAD is that the reduced exposure to sunlight can interfere with the functioning of a part of the brain called the hypothalamus that helps regulate our nervous and endocrine systems. This throws off our body’s production of important brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin and can cause some people to experience feelings of sadness or depression, lethargy, and fatigue and loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

You might recognize Melatonin from the sleep-aid aisle of your local pharmacy as it has become a popular supplement to assist with getting a good night’s rest. Scientists believe that our brains might be overproducing Melatonin in the winter when we start to get less natural sunlight exposure as daylight savings time makes sunsets come quite early and we spend less time outdoors to avoid the cold. This extra Melatonin production might be what makes us feel gloomy and groggy and contribute to winter-type SAD in some people.

So, shouldn’t that mean that everyone is feeling bright and cheery in the Summer with all that extra sunshine? Researchers are starting to believe that some people might be underproducing melatonin in the warmer months, creating the opposite chemical imbalance as Winter-type SAD. This brain-chemical imbalance might be why some of us have a harder time obtaining restful sleep in the Summer and leave us feeling a bit extra irritable and anxious. Although the research on Summer-type-SAD is still very limited, obvious culprits include the following:

  • Excessive Heat and Humidity can be generally unpleasant for most, but some people might find themselves to be especially sensitive to the temperature change.

  • Heat can also make it hard to keep up with self-care routines. Cooking and cleaning can become difficult when we are overheated. Exercises can get tricky too if you do not have access to a pool, the beach, indoor exercise facility or home equipment.

  • Recent reports support association of airborne pollen and seasonal allergies with seasonal exacerbation of depression.

  • FOMO- Our society has decided that Summer is to be a joyful time and there can be pressure to live up to that. This can make Summer Type Sad feel particularly isolating.

  • Summer can really disrupt our routines- Kids home from school, changes in work schedules, extra travel. These changes can be extra stressful for some.

  • Summer vacations can sometimes mean an increase in alcohol consumption which is a depressant and can cause “hangxiety” or a decreased mood in the days after excessive consumption.

  • Increased pressure to wear revealing clothing combined with Summer BBQs can feel like an unfair combination. Body image and self-esteem issues may make summer a very stressful time for some.

With all of these factors, it’s no wonder why some of us can feel surprisingly off during the summer months. If you feel like you can relate to some of the warm-weather stressors on this list, please understand that you are not alone and what you are feeling is normal. You may relate to some of these factors more than others and that is normal too. While you may not be able to prevent being susceptible to Summer SAD entirely, there are many behavioral steps that you can take to mitigate the symptoms and feel like yourself again. From our years of experience working with clients we have found the following eight steps useful for combating Summer SAD symptoms:

Behavioral Steps You Can Take To Manage Summer Sad

1. Try to spend some time in darker rooms with the blinds closed-the opposite of winter sad care. This might be particularly helpful closer to your scheduled bedtime to help your body kick start its melatonin production.

    2. Try to keep your body temperature regulated as much as possible. If you do not have air conditioning in your home or you work in an outdoor setting, try to spend some off-time when you can in public air-conditioned areas like libraries, shopping malls, or coffee shops.

      3. friends to play indoor basketball, play pool with you, jump at a trampoline park, take a pottery class with you, or attend an open mic night at a coffee shop. Focus on asking people to do indoor activities with you. This will keep you out of the sun while maintaining connections with friends and loved ones.

        4. Try to set realistic expectations for yourself and avoid over scheduling plans. Allowing some time to rest and recharge after trips can help you maximize your experience and avoid exhaustion. Extroverts thrive on interacting with others while introverts recharge from being alone. Many of us fall somewhere in between the two.Try to pay attention to your own natural patterns and reactions. The goal is to be scheduled, but not overscheduled.

          5. Don’t underestimate the importance of hydration. Even if we spend a good deal of our time indoors, the temperature increase in the Summer can still have a big impact. Dehydration can slow down our brain's ability to function properly which can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. Try to treat water like a nutrient that is good for your mental health.

            6. If you do drink alcohol try to be mindful of your consumption during the Summer months. That extra dehydration can have a surprisingly large impact on your mood for the following days.

              7. Too hot to exercise outside? Try to get creative with your fitness routine by waking up extra early to beat the heat or embracing the home-gym with free workout videos on YouTube. Many gyms offer temporary summer discounts and sliding scale budget friendly options. The bottom line is not to let the heat get in the way of your mood-boosting exercise!

                8. A “beach body” is a body that is on the beach! Try to remember that society has created unrealistic expectations for us to look like bodybuilders and swimsuit models in the summer. Try to focus on health instead of size. How do you feel when you are using your body? Does your body allow you to move in the way you want it to?

                  Emotional Exercises You Can Do To Manage Negative Emotions That May Come From Summer Sad

                  While it is good to be mindful of the link between our physical wellbeing and mental health during the summer months, it’s important to understand the links between our emotional processing and Summer SAD symptoms. Everyone will be impacted by the unique societal pressures that Summer brings and it is important to take time to reflect on how we are handling this stress. The following exercises have been developed by practitioners at The Center For Growth to help process and manage some of the negative emotions that may come from Summer SAD.

                  -Focus On Developing Self Compassion (link to https://www.thecenterforgrowth.com/tips/self-compassion)

                  Try these steps out to practice dialing back your inner critic and welcoming in a little more patience and kindness. Breaking the cycle of negative self-talk can be a challenge but with time and effort we can improve our ability to naturally embrace self-compassion.

                  -Doing the Opposite Action to Create Emotional Regulation (link to https://www.thecenterforgrowth.com/tips/opposite-action-for-emotion-regulation)

                    Seeking some assistance with reactions caused by strong emotions? This TIP uses a DBT approach to help improve emotional regulation for feelings like anger and sadness.

                    -DBT Distress Tolerance (link to https://www.thecenterforgrowth.com/tips/dbt-distress-tolerance)

                      If you are looking for ways to cope with intense emotions during a difficult time, this 7 step tool can be easily remembered with the acronym IMPROVE. This DBT Tip is a great way to help self regulate and prevent delving into a crisis mode when we experience challenges and life stressors.

                      -Caring For Your Depressed Brain: 50 Tiny Nice Things You Can Do For Yourself (link to https://www.thecenterforgrowth.com/tips/caring-for-your-depressed-brain-50-tiny-nice-things-exercise )

                        This is an easy exercise that can be done anywhere when we need help showering ourselves with a little bit of self-compassion. Listing some of the simple but good things that are a part of our day can help shift our brain out of negative thought patterns and practice embracing the positives.

                        Next Steps

                        Whether you are struggling to adjust to seasonal routine changes or experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, relief from Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder is possible. If you feel you need assistance figuring out how to best implement preventative strategies that work for you, a therapist can help you develop a personalized self-care routine. If you are still struggling to manage the negative emotions that are a result of Summertime SAD, contact the Center for Growth to self schedule an in person or online appointment today (link tohttps://www.thecenterforgrowth.com/therapy/schedule-an-appointment) . Additionally you can call 215 922 6583 x 100 and speak with a live therapist.

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