For most, summer means fun times lounging poolside, relaxing on vacation, and catching up on our reading lists. But for some, this seasonal shift can leave us feeling exactly the opposite.
Not “feeling it” isn’t the typical hallmark of a summer mood, but it is a symptom of Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder (summer SAD, for short). The National Institute of Mental Health reports that SAD is a “type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern.” SAD is most commonly associated with winter, but it can also strike in the summer.
While winter SAD shows symptoms of depression such as low energy, excessive sleepiness, overeating, and weight gain, summer SAD elicits the reverse: restlessness, insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss. The cause for SAD is unknown, but one theory is that changes in the circadian rhythm (our natural sleep cycle) and hormone fluctuations, which both affect mood, could be at the root of the shift.
Psychology Today estimates that ten million Americans suffer from SAD and another 10 to 20 percent from mild SAD—typically beginning in our twenties and thirties and extending through life. Dr. Norman Rosenthal, who first researched the condition in 1984, found that women are four times more likely than men to be diagnosed with it. If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, here are some remedies to help combat summer depression.
01. Create Habits That Help You Sleep Better
Summer days are long, but you may find your nights even longer if you’re restless and can’t sleep. Overexposure to sunlight can lead to an imbalance in serotonin and melatonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, while melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland that makes you sleepy. It’s essential to make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep.
If your symptoms are mild, try these ten tips to enhance your current night’s sleep. For insomnia, start with these five natural sleep tips. If they don’t work for you, talk to your doctor about taking a natural sleep aid such as melatonin. Although this supplement is available over the counter in the U.S., researchers advise that it should only be taken after consulting with a doctor to find out if your body is not producing melatonin or not producing enough of it.
02. Hang Out in the Shade
With winter SAD, doctors recommend using light therapy to stabilize the brain’s production of melatonin and promote serotonin production. With summer SAD, the opposite is recommended: Favor the shade. Sun overexposure can disrupt more than your circadian rhythm; it’s also linked with poor appetite as sunlight is a natural appetite suppressant. Spend more time inside rather than sunbathing outdoors—try reading one of these new novels, mastering a crowd-pleasing recipe, or even working out.
03. Lower Your Stress Levels
Summer is a busy season, which means it can also be the most stressful. With a fuller schedule comes an even greater responsibility for self-care. Whether you schedule a non-negotiable time out on a hot and hectic day or overcome the FOMO of limiting your daytime activities by learning to say no, stress relief is a natural remedy for summer SAD.
04. Beat the Body Image Blues
Body insecurities—hello, beach body advertising!—also trigger summer SAD. While we all need encouragement and inspiration, those suffering from depression need it most. Read Verily’s series “Beyond Your Summer Body” for a healthy dose of body positivity and tips to have a healthy summer of self-love.
Even though they’re temporary, seasonal disorders are real and can threaten our ability to enjoy whichever season we’re in. Being able to recognize the warning signs of summer SAD in ourselves and others can help us live better, healthier lives and find authentic joy during one of the year’s most dynamic seasons.
Photo Credit: Ben Warren