Ah, the joys of summer: The withering heat and school vacations, when your kids give you minute-to-minute updates on their boredom levels. Isn’t summer supposed to be fun and relaxing? If you’ve got summer depression, it isn’t.
For some people, summer depression has a biological cause, says Ian A. Cook, MD, the director of the Depression Research Program at UCLA. For others, the particular stresses of summer can pile up and make them feel miserable.
Especially hard is that you feel like you’re supposed to be having a great time. Everyone else seems so happy splashing in the water and sweating in their lawn chairs. So why can’t you? And more importantly, what can you do to make this summer easier? Here’s what you need to know about summer depression.
Understanding Summer Depression
Why do some people feel more depressed in summer? Here’s a rundown of reasons.
Summertime SAD. You’ve probably heard about seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which affects about 4% to 6% of the U.S. population. SAD typically causes depression as the days get shorter and colder. But about 10% of people with SAD get it in the reverse — the onset of summer triggers their depression symptoms. Cook notes that some studies have shown that in countries near the equator – such as India – summer SAD is more common than winter SAD. Why do seasonal changes cause depression? Experts aren’t sure, but the longer days, and increasing heat and humidity may play a role. Specific symptoms of summer depression often include loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, weight loss, and anxiety.
Disrupted schedules in summer. If you’ve had depression before, you probably know that having a reliable routine is often key to staving off symptoms. But during the summer, routine goes out the window – and that disruption can be stressful, Cook says. If you have children in grade school, you’re suddenly faced with the prospect of keeping them occupied all day, every day. If your kids are in college, you may suddenly find them – and all their boxes of stuff – back in the house after a nine-month absence. Vacations can disrupt your work, sleep, and eating habits – all of which can all contribute to summer depression.
Body image issues. As the temperature climbs and the layers of clothing fall away, a lot of people feel terribly self-conscious about their bodies, says Cook. Feeling embarrassed in shorts or a bathing suit can make life awkward, not to mention hot. Since so many summertime gatherings revolve around beaches and pools, some people start avoiding social situations out of embarrassment.
Financial worries. Summers can be expensive. There’s the vacation, of course. And if you’re a working parent, you may have to fork over a lot of money to summer camps or babysitters to keep your kids occupied while you’re on the job. The expenses can add to a feeling of summer depression.
“This summer, we have worries about the economic crisis layered on top of everything else,” says Cook. “People are feeling more financially strapped. They’re wondering, ‘If I go on vacation, will the job still be there when I get back?’”
The heat. Lots of people relish the sweltering heat. They love baking on a beach all day. But for the people who don’t, summer heat can become truly oppressive. You may start spending every weekend hiding out in your air-conditioned bedroom, watching Pay-Per-View until your eyes ache. You may begin to skip your usual before-dinner walks because of the humidity. You may rely on unhealthy takeout because it’s just too stifling to cook. Any of these things can contribute to summer depression.