Dealing With Summer Depression
It’s summer, and you’re supposed to enjoy beach days, plenty of sunshine, and trips with your family. But for some reason, you can’t shake the fog of depression long enough to get out of bed. You may suffer from summer depression, a less talked about version of seasonal affective disorder.
Maybe you‘re a parent and feel like you‘re wasting away your children‘s summers, a single person who feels like you should be enjoying the sand and surf instead of hiding in your pajamas for another night of Netflix and takeout – either way, feeling like you‘re not enjoying summer the way you should can compound seasonal depression and make things worse. In this blog, we’ll discuss summer depression in more detail and offer some tips for combating it.
What is Summer Depression
Summer depression is a major depressive disorder correlated to summer weather or social patterns. For some, summer depression has a biological cause; for others, it’s situational. Whatever the reason for summer depression, it’s important to realize you aren’t alone, and help is available. Here are a few causes of summer depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, affects about 4% of people. Winter SAD is more common than summer, but depression correlating with seasonal changes can occur anytime. The main characteristic of SAD is a major depressive episode related to a change in weather patterns. symptoms of SAD include:
- Daytime fatigue
- Unintentional Weight gain
- Craving carbohydrates
- Decreased sexual interest
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack of interest in usual activities and decreased socialization
A diagnosis of SAD requires a seasonal pattern of depression over the course of many years. This means you won’t usually be diagnosed with SAD during the first season you experience it. Instead, the depression must decrease and return to be considered seasonal. Even if your depression is seasonal rather than persistent, you should still seek treatment so you can enjoy life rather than wish seasons away.
Lack of Schedule
For many people, a schedule keeps them from succumbing to typical symptoms of depression. A routine keeps you engaging in healthy habits and getting enough sleep and helps ensure you keep your to-do list under control. A short vacation from your routine can do wonders for your mental health, but a prolonged period without a schedule may cause or exacerbate symptoms of depression.
For many people summer months means a complete change in schedule because your kids are home from school or a lack of schedule because you’re out of work or school. If you’re someone who works more in the warmer months, summer may mean you’re too busy to take care of your health the way you typically do. When your typical routine is disrupted for any reason, depressive symptoms can creep up.
Summer can also mean you’re getting more or less sleep than you typically do. The extra sunlight may mess up your circadian rhythm. You might get more or less sleep than you usually do, your melatonin production may be thrown off, and mental illness can creep in.
Body Image Concerns
Summer typically means more skin showing. Bathing suits, sundresses, shorts, and t-shirts can cause body image issues, especially if you’ve experienced unexpected weight loss or weight gain. The need to bare more skin to stay comfortable in the climbing temperatures can cause summertime sadness to creep in. Suppose you’re choosing to stay indoors and avoid social gatherings you’d usually enjoy because of concerns about body image. In that case, you may want to seek treatment before full-blown summer depression takes hold.
High Temperatures, Humidity, and Sweating
The combination of high temperatures, extreme humidity, and too much sun can cause depression in some people. The rise in average temperatures causes suicide rates to increase in early summer and can also increase the incidence of violent crime. So why does heat affect our behavior? It seems heat affects the way our brains function. Since your brain regulates emotions and helps you make intelligent decisions, it makes sense that a decrease in brain function can cause more emotional outbursts, increased depression, and more difficulty coping.
What to Do About Summer Depression
Treating summer depression is similar to treating other forms of depression. Sure, you could just wait for the symptoms to disappear when the weather turns in the fall, but that means you’re waiting for a quarter of your life to pass instead of living it in a way that increases your joy. Here are a few tips for combating summer depression.
Stick to a Sleep Schedule
Longer days and earlier sunrises can cause your sleep schedule to shift in the summer, and interrupted sleep is disastrous if you’re already battling depression. Adequate sleep helps you regulate emotions, process your day, and restore your mind for the next day.
To protect your sleep, say no to late-night plans, put blackout shades on your bedroom windows, and spend an hour away from screens before you turn in each night. If you’re still struggling to wind down, try taking melatonin – the chemical your body produces naturally when it’s time to sleep. As always, talk to your doctor before adding any supplements or medications.
Diet and Exercise
Summer barbecues, day drinking with your friends, and snacking on chips and soda at the beach can derail your typical dietary habits. If you’re on vacation or bothered by the heat, you may abandon your usual exercise regimen—the change in what you eat and how you move your body negatively affects your mental health.
To protect your mental health while enjoying your summer, bring your favorite healthy snacks to barbecues and beach days, or eat before you go. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption and find an air-conditioned way to enjoy your favorite types of physical activity. If you’re not accustomed to exercising but wanting to see if it helps improve your depression symptoms, start slow with walking or swimming after getting clearance from your healthcare provider.
While diet and exercise are essential to maintaining mental health, too much of anything can make depression symptoms worse. Avoid crash-dieting to address body image issues and instead learn to appreciate the body you have while working to improve your health and wellbeing slowly. It’s also essential to avoid over-exercising, especially in extreme heat. Worrying about missing a gym session because you‘d rather stay in bed won‘t improve your mental health. Choose a diet and exercise program that addresses your mental health needs without adding to your stress.
It’s easy to become over-scheduled in summer, whether running around after your kids or fielding social requests from family and friends. Be realistic about how much time you can spend on activities outside your norm and stick to those decisions. Say no if you’re invited to a barbecue or wedding that doesn’t fit the parameters you’ve decided on. Setting these boundaries with family and friends may be difficult at first. Remember, your first job is to take care of yourself. You don’t need to offer a reason for declining invitations. Simply saying no is enough.
Plan Vacation Carefully
For some, vacation is a chance to stop, decompress, and enjoy unencumbered time with a novel. For others, vacation is an action-packed week of adventures. What do you need to return to your daily life feeling renewed? Do you want a week on a beach with a pile of books? Would you prefer hikes, snorkeling tours, and long bike rides?
How a vacation fits into your broader plans? Do you need a day after a vacation to acclimate to be home and prepare for the week ahead? Do you need to take an additional day before leaving, so you aren‘t packing in a frenzy? Planning vacations can help your mental health.
If financial concerns cause you additional stress and you aren’t sure you can afford a vacation to an exciting destination, don’t let that add to your depression. Take some time away from work and enjoy a staycation in whatever fashion works for you. It‘s also okay if you can’t afford time away from work in this season of your life. Recognize that you’re working toward future goals – you’ll get plenty of vacations in the future.
When everyone posts pictures to Instagram of their fabulous vacations, lazy beach days, and drinks poolside, it can feel like you’re the only one who doesn‘t like celebrating summer. You aren’t the only one who would rather avoid the sun and humidity and become besties with your Netflix and Hulu accounts. Choosing to stay in rather than go out.
It’s also important to honor your emotions. If you’re sad because you can’t afford the vacations it seems like everyone else takes, or frustrated because your children are home more often and can’t stop eating snacks, it‘s okay. Whatever your emotions are, they’re normal and valid. Feel them – honor them – and then move on. You don’t have to live in your negative feelings.
Get Help Addressing Summer Depression
If you’re suffering from depression this summer, you must seek help from a mental health professional. Whether it‘s your first summer experiencing depressive symptoms or a pattern you‘ve noticed over a few years, a therapist or counselor can help you make it through the worst days while finding ways to avoid future depressive episodes.For help with summer depression or other mental health concerns, contact our office to reach a specialist who can address your mental health concerns and a team who can care for your overall wellness with compassion.