Lana Del Rey's song "Summertime Sadness" hits different when you're actually experiencing sadness in the summer. Most of us understand that darker and shorter days, colder weather, and less 'outdoor' time could lead to decreased mental health and symptoms of depression. However, when these feelings start to come on during the warmer months, many of us fail to recognize that what we could be experiencing are the same symptoms from the wintertime, just in the sun instead of the snow.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D)?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression, is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, usually during the winter months. SAD is characterized by a persistent low mood, fatigue, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns. People with SAD may also experience anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of worthlessness. SAD tends to affect about 4-6% of the US population.
The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but it is thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including changes in the amount of sunlight exposure, changes in the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, and genetic factors.
SAD is most common in people who live in northern latitudes, where there is less sunlight during the winter months. However, it can occur in people who live in any climate.
What are the signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter?
Here are some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:
Depression:Persistent low mood, sadness, or hopelessness.
Fatigue:Increased fatigue or decreased energy levels.
Changes in appetite:Increased or decreased appetite, weight gain or loss.
Changes in sleep patterns:Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or increased sleepiness during the day.
Anxiety:Increased anxiety or nervousness.
Difficulty concentrating:Difficulty paying attention or making decisions.
Feelings of worthlessness:Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
Social withdrawal:Increased social isolation or withdrawal from activities.
Why do some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Summertime?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is typically associated with the winter months, but there is a condition called "reverse SAD", also known as summer SAD, that can happen during the summer months. Moreover, it can happen to more people during the summer than in the winter, up to 10% of people experience their symptoms in reverse.
Reverse SAD is characterized by the same symptoms as SAD, but they occur during the summer instead of the winter. The exact cause of reverse SAD is not fully understood, but it is thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including:
Increased exposure to sunlight:Too much sunlight can disrupt the body's natural circadian rhythm, which can lead to symptoms of depression.
Changes in temperature:The increased heat and humidity of summer can make it difficult to sleep, which can also lead to symptoms of depression.
Changes in social activities:People tend to be more active in the winter, when there are more opportunities for social gatherings. In the summer, people may be more likely to stay indoors, which can lead to social isolation and loneliness.
Genetics:Some people may be more genetically susceptible to SAD, regardless of the season.
Getting through the Summer without experiencing the big S.A.D
While we can't prevent everything that could make us feel sad or depressed during the summer, it’s important we understand there are steps we can take to combat some of the symptoms of depression that could make things worse. While professional intervention is always recommended when how you're feeling, thinking, or behaving is causing you significant life stress, you also deserve to have your own health in your own hands.
Here are some immediate steps that may reduce symptoms of summertime depression:
Get enough sunlight.Sunlight exposure helps regulate your body's natural sleep-wake cycle and can boost your mood. Try to get at least 15-30 minutes of sunlight exposure each day, even if it's just sitting outside in your backyard or on your porch, and try to start by getting it within the first hour of your day!
Stay hydrated.It's easy to get dehydrated in the summer, especially if you're sweating a lot. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, even if you're not thirsty.
Get regular exercise.Exercise is a great way to boost your mood and energy levels. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. And if exercise isn't it for you, movement of almost any kind can be helpful.
Eat a healthy diet.Eating a healthy diet can help improve your overall mood and energy levels. Make sure to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet.
Get enough sleep.Most adults need around 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Make sure to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
Practice relaxation techniques.Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing can help reduce stress and improve your mood.
Connect with others.Social interaction can help improve your mood and reduce feelings of isolation. Spend time with friends and family, or join a club or group that interests you.
Seek professional help.If you're struggling to cope with seasonal depression, don't hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist can help you develop coping strategies and manage your symptoms.
Please consult your medical doctor or other licensed health-care professional to determine your personal health risk as it relates to seasonal affective disorder during the summer months.
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Dr. Courtney is a licensed clinical social worker and doctor of clinical psychology who specializes in substance use disorders, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, and the trauma that precedes and results from these conditions.