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A Case of the Summer Blues

Most people usher in the onset of summer with shouts of joy, but the reality is that there are some who aren’t as thrilled by the arrival of summer. One might think that in Seattle, it’s our duty to appreciate the warmest months when all is in bloom, overlaid in golden light, and crowds flood the parks.

However, for individuals who experience reverse seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or summertime SAD, the arrival of the summer sun is not necessarily a welcome sight. Even after months of the dispiriting Northwest winter weather, for individuals with summertime SAD, summer can trigger symptoms of depression.

Summer is certainly not without its irritations, including warring with mosquitos, allergies around the clock, and sweating through multiple shirts. Though intrepid summer warriors may consider these to be necessary sacrifices that must simply be laughed off in the name of a having a good time in the sun, the symptoms of depression felt by those suffering from summertime SAD go far beyond these annoyances.

Approximately 1-10 percent of the adult population in the United States suffer from SAD. While it’s usually referred to in the context of winter, symptoms of summertime SAD include fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

“Both summer SAD and winter SAD people can experience the full range of symptoms of major depressive disorder — depressed mood, hopelessness, and feelings of worthlessness and nihilism,” psychiatrist Ian Cook said in a Smithsonian article published last June.

Since most of the treatments commonly used to treat winter SAD, including lightboxes that are designed to emulate sunlight, are ineffective or don’t apply to summer SAD, those who suffer from the warm-weather affliction have to be creative.

“We receive far fewer cases of summertime seasonal affective disorder as we do the winter kind,” said David Flagel, a counselor at the UW Counseling Center. “We do have a light box here at the counseling center for students dealing with traditional SAD to utilize. We’ve been seeing a lot of students, particularly from lower latitudes, that have been affected by the rainy Northwest weather. They’ve been experiencing difficulty concentrating and maintaining motivation, and low energy, to the extent that it’s affecting their academic performance.”

But why, then, do some individuals suffer from the reverse? One possible explanation could be related to the unstructured time often associated with summer months. For those who find value in a dependable rhythm and routine, summer can present a substantial pebble in our shoe.

“I absolutely need a schedule to stay sane. Without one, I’m in trouble. So a month or so before school ends for the year, I get out my calendar and start marking it up,” said Therese Bonchard in an article for Psych Central.

It’s imperative to maintain some kind of flow to your routine while managing summertime SAD. As a student, one way to adjust is to take one summer class on a topic purely of interest to you, or get involved with a registered student organization or club that interests you as some are still active over the break.

Beyond inconsistent schedules and the general increase in heat lies another reason. Summer means seeing a lot more skin, which can heighten body image issues and make the idea of joining the ranks of bikinis and swim shorts less enticing.

“Since so many summertime gatherings revolve around beaches and pools, some people start avoiding social situations out of embarrassment,” Bonchard said in the article.

If it’s purely the soaring temps at the root of your slump, a road trip either up north to our Canadian cousins, or a shorter drive to the mountains is an excellent way to leave the heat behind.

While it can be tempting to crawl into a shell and try to sweat off the remaining months of summer, caught up in a vicious circle of watching “Seinfeld” reruns, realize that you’re not being irrational for feeling this way, and you’re certainly not alone. You’re not the only one who thinks waterparks are overhyped, who gets irked by the incessant song of the ice cream truck, nor the only one who didn’t wind up with that killer six pack.

Your well-being doesn’t have to suffer along with the front lawn this summer. Stay hydrated, stay cool, and stay proactive.

Read the full article here: http://www.dailyuw.com/wellness/article_a7c9cefc-3dac-11e6-bcd7-1376a601d736.html