As I write this, sunlight glares off the pavement outside my window, the sky remains a plain of ceaseless blue, and the air is so bogged down with heat that the usual cheery birdcalls trilling through the neighborhood now sound shrill.
It is summer; I am sad and annoyed — and there’s not a big overreaching reason why (not any more than all the other seasons, at least). I haven’t always been a “bummer in the summer” kind of person; in fact, it used to be my favorite time of year. All the way through childhood and even past my college years, I relished long days swimming in the ocean and countless nights sitting around bonfires with friends. When I became a parent, I still loved the summer season, planning seaside vacations with my family and reading to my kids under the canopy of the city park’s huge oak trees.
But as my children turned into adults and I transformed into a middle-aged woman, I find that the long, light-filled days have grown increasingly challenging. One of my friends feels similarly, joking that maybe it’s because our skin has literally become thinner, making us more sensitive to sunlight and prone to sunburn. Although that may be true, our more delicate epidermis doesn’t account for the ever-thickening sadness. And… I also know a 26-year-old who also notices that she gets the summertime blues as well.
So out of curiosity, I Googled “Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Summer,” not expecting any concrete results. I was surprised to find that it really is a “thing.” Even WebMD had an article on it titled “Tips for Summer Depression,” saying that about 10 percent of people with SAD get it in “the reverse” — that is instead of depression being triggered during the typical SAD season of winter, it creeps in during summer months instead.
Symptoms of summertime SAD include loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, weight loss, insomnia, and anxiety — and, of course, sadness. According to this article, the director of the Depression Research Program at UCLA, Ian A. Cook, MD, says that some studies have shown that SAD is more common during the summer than winter in countries near the equator. Experts theorize that longer days and increasing heat plus humidity may play a role.
So what can we “summer-bummer” folks do to help save ourselves from drowning in the summertime blues? Whether we are suffering from a clinical bout of summertime SAD or dealing with situational depression during these hot, sweaty months, below are a number of ways that can help us cruise through the dog days of summer.
Dealing With the Extra Light. Staff writer Olga Khazan at The Atlantic wrote a piece about summertime SAD in which she cited a theory by Alfred Lewy, a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University. Lewy theorizes that the intense light of summer may be just as disruptive as winter’s short days and long nights. Because people have a tendency, as well, to stay up later in the summer, we can further throw off our body clocks. Lewy suggests that people suffering from summertime SAD may be able to reset their clocks by taking melatonin and exposing themselves to early-morning light.
Dealing With the Extra Heat. The simple fact that heat can also affect people in negative ways (irritability, anger, lethargy, etc.) can very well contribute to summertime SAD. According to the article posted in The Atlantic, Thomas Wehr, a scientist emeritus with the National Institute of Mental Health who first documented SAD, notes that when people with summertime depression were “wrapped in cooling blankets at night, their temperatures dropped and their symptoms disappeared. As soon as they went outside into the summer heat, their depression returned.”
Dealing With the Extra “Fun.” Aside from the biological reasons behind summertime SAD, people often have to deal with extra stressors of the season, including body image issues (the thought of donning on shorts and bathing suits can make some people feel horribly self-conscious), disrupted routines (kids home from school and/or college, anyone?), even vacations can contribute to summer depression because they disrupt exercise, sleep, and eating habits. It’s important, therefore, to either find a way to work on body image issues and/or allow yourself the freedom to wear a nice, cool dress or loose pants and shirts, instead of shorts and tank tops and swimming trunks and t-shirts (rather than bikinis), plan summer camp activities for the kids and/or make sure that your college-aged kids know you’re not going to work as their personal maid, and lastly, try to maintain a healthy exercise routine (maybe an air-conditioned gym may be in order?), a steady sleep schedule, and try to eat as healthy of a diet as possible.
And… you can also do what I do: By seven at night, I often shut all the blinds, curl up on the couch, and enjoy a good book or my current binge-worthy show, while ignoring the evening sun outside my front door as well as my neighbor’s beer-enhanced barbecues. Ah, how wonderful the mellow light of autumn will be!