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Seasonal Affective Disorder — in the Summer

The weather outside is getting warmer, the days are growing longer, events like graduations and weddings and outdoor barbeques are looming on the horizon. People expect you to be happy right now, but instead you actually feel more depressed and irritable than in the winter.

Why?

Despite what you think, you aren’t alone feeling this way. In fact, in late spring and summer, admissions to psychiatric hospitals actually increase from the winter months. There’s a name for what you might be feeling– seasonal affective disorder (SAD), summer variant.

Summer seasonal affective disorder is different than the more well-known, winter seasonal affective disorder, and it’s also rarer. Unlike the winter variety of SAD, which affects 4-6 percent of the U.S. population, summer SAD affects less than 1 percent of the U.S. population and is more common in warmer climates in the United States and in countries near the equator. But like the winter SAD, it affects primarily women in their 20s to 40s.

Summer SAD is thought to be related to increases in temperature and decreases in melatonin. Severe fluctuations in barometric pressure and rainfall also seem to exacerbate mood changes associated with summer SADS.

The primary SAD summer depression symptoms are the following:

Poor appetite
Insomnia
Increased anxiety
Increased irritability and/or agitation
Weight loss
Increased sex drive
Loss of interest in your usual activities
Hopelessness
Feelings of Depression
Suicidal thoughts

So, what can you do if you think you might suffer from summer seasonal affective disorder? Here are some recommendations.

Tips for coping with summer seasonal affective disorder

Recognize that there is help! If you are struggling for more than two weeks with the symptoms listed above, get help from a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional. In rare cases, the symptoms of summer SAD can be the beginnings of a manic episode, or they can turn into a major depression, if you do not get some help.
A psychologist can help you by using certain therapy techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which have been proven to be very effective in treating seasonal affective disorders. Cognitive therapy works by teaching you strategies to “reframe” or think more positively and flexibly about your situation. This leads to increased self control, improvements in mood and lessening of anxiety and helplessness. Medication may be useful too.

Limit your exposure to heat. Stay indoors in air conditioning on extremely hot days.

Keep up a regular exercise schedule (stay indoors on hot days).

Get enough sleep. Try to get at least 7-8 hrs a day. This will definitely make you feel better.

Plan your vacation to a cooler climate, if possible.

Finally, recognize that you are not alone in feeling sad and uncomfortable. This time of year is particularly hard on single, divorced or widowed people, especially those who have lost loved ones in the summer months.

The contrast between what we think we should feel (joy, happiness, delight in the “carefree summer”) and what we may actually feel (sad, anxious, irritated, uncomfortable with our body) can definitely lead to feelings of irritability and depression. Remember, even though it may seem as if everyone else is having a wonderful time frolicking in the sun, many people are not and are coping with some of the same issues as you!

Dr. Nancy Moliter