5 Tips for Dealing with Summer Depression

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects many people, but it typically causes depression in the winter. A small percentage of people with SAD have the opposite problem: they get depressed in the summer. Any kind of depression can be treated effectively by professionals in mental health. But there are also things you can do for yourself, such as staying engaged with friends and spending more time indoors with air conditioning, that will help you manage depressive episodes.

It’s hard for most people to understand, but a small percentage of people with seasonal depression do feel glum when the weather turns hot and sunny. If this sounds like you, you may have summer SAD. But you don’t have to struggle all summer. Dealing with summer depression can be tough, but there are things you can do to boost your mood and prevent future depressive episodes. Try these tips, and if you still feel bad seek professional treatment.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which classifies mental illnesses, seasonal affective disorder is a type of major depression. It is officially called major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns.

In other words, if you have SAD you also have major depression. You have the characteristic signs and symptoms of depression, but they generally only occur at a specific time of year. The symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Agitation or decreases in affect
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks or thoughts
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death and suicide

To be diagnosed with a seasonal pattern you have to meet the criteria for depression and experience episodes at a specific time of year for at least the past few years. You should experience relief at a predictable time of year. For most people this means that depression sets in during the fall and winter and is relieved in spring.

Summer SAD

About 70 percent of people diagnosed with SAD experience fall/winter depression. They feel better in the spring and summer. Possible but less common is summer depression. If you feel fine in the winter and then begin to experience depression as spring and summer begin, only to get relief again in the fall, you could have this type of SAD. There are also a few symptoms that are more common in summer and spring SAD than the winter type:

  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation

So why does this happen to a minority of people who feel depressed in the warmer months? No one is entirely sure, and there are probably many reasons or triggers that factor in to summer sadness: a disrupted schedule over the summer months and change of routine, financial stresses when summer activities are costly, body image issues and beach or pool days, and simply feeling physically uncomfortable in the heat.

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Dealing With Summer Depression – Five Tips

Summer depression can be particularly difficult to deal with because it is so unusual. In the winter you probably have other friends or family members who also feel down. Even if they don’t meet the criteria for diagnosis, a little bit of the blues in winter is common. But most people struggle to understand how you can feel sadder in the summer and will have a hard time being empathetic.

One of the best and most positive things you can do if you experience summer depression is seek treatment. Like any other kind of depression, this is treatable and manageable. Therapy, and medication if necessary, can help you lift your moods and cope with depressive episodes in positive ways. Whether or not you seek professional care, there are some easy things you can do to feel better and cope with this unusual type of depression.

1. Find Darkness and Stay Cool.

Some research indicates that people with summer-type SAD may struggle because of the high temperatures and other uncomfortable environmental factors, like intense sun or high humidity. Anyone living in northern latitudes is at a greater risk for winter SAD because of climate, and it seems the same may be true for those living closer to the equator and the risk for summer SAD.

What this means is that if you struggle with depression in the summer, changing your environment could help. Find places where you can get cool and get out of the sun. Staying indoors with air conditioning and blinds down in the hottest parts of the day is especially helpful. If you don’t have AC, try going to the movies or to the mall to cool down.

2. Maintain a Set Schedule and Routine.

The shift in routine, often from scheduled and rigid to chaotic, can be one trigger for summer depression. If you like order and routine, keep it up for the summer. Set specific times even for regular tasks, like getting up, eating, showering, working out, and doing chores.

Inevitably there will be aspects of summer that get chaotic and over which you have less control, such as kids’ activities and vacations. However, if you schedule and set routines for what you can control, you may feel better and be more equipped to deal with the disruptions as they occur.

3. Focus on Getting Enough Sleep.

Adequate and high-quality sleep is essential for both physical and mental health, whether you have a diagnosis of depression or not. For summer depression, sleep is especially important. While people with the winter type tend to sleep too much, summer SAD often causes insomnia. Making sleep a priority will help improve your mood. There are a few things you can try to improve your sleep in the summer:

  • Go to bed and get up in the morning at the same times every day. A routine will train your brain and body to get sleep at bed time.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and big meals before bed. You shouldn’t have any caffeine after noon.
  • Darken your bedroom as much as possible. Get blackout curtains if necessary.
  • Ban all screens from the bedroom and read to help you get sleepy.
  • Try some stress management techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing, to get relaxed before bed.

4. Get Exercise, in Spite of the Heat.

Exercise may be the last thing you want to do when the weather gets hot and muggy, but staying active is a powerful way to combat depression any time of year. Make a point to keep up with a regular exercise routine. Instead of going outside to work out, though, try doing things indoors where you can access air conditioning and stay cool. A gym is a great solution, but you may also try swimming to get exercise and to get relief from summer heat.

5. Spend Time With People and Plan Fun Activities.

What you may want to do during a summer depression is hide inside and isolate yourself from others, but it’s important to be social and supported. Make an effort to spend time with family and friends in whatever type of situation makes you comfortable and do activities you enjoy.

For instance, if the idea of a big summer barbecue with people you may not know causes stress, stick with smaller groups. Plan activities you want to do with just one or two people you trust and with whom you feel comfortable. While you may not have the urge to socialize or to do anything fun, social support and taking action are powerful ways to boost your mood. And being around other people, even if it’s just having one friend over, can distract you from the negative thoughts that are so hard to avoid when alone.

Summer depression is a particularly difficult type of depression. It’s unusual and most people won’t understand how you can feel down on sunny, warm days. Try these things to improve your mood in the summer, but if you still feel depressed it may be time to seek professional help. Rehab and therapy can help you learn how to manage this condition and possibly even prevent new episodes.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.