May-19-2011

Seasonal Affective Disorder — in the Summer

 

Sunshine you are my love[Day149]*

 

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 symptoms of summer SAD 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!

Photo by Chapendra via Flickr

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9 Responses to “Seasonal Affective Disorder — in the Summer”

  1. M   May 15, 2012 at 1:48 am

    Here I was for years thinking I was nuts for hating summer.

    Thankfully, I’m in Seattle where the “gorgeous” days are short-lived, but when they do come…ugh. I get everything from emotionally touchy and lethargic up through light-sensitive migraines. I also switch to a DJ-free radio station in the summer because the dead last thing I want to hear with the mood I’m in is someone cheerfully praising the weather every half hour.

    One thing that has helped me cope is swapping to night shifts in the summer when my jobs permitted. I also sleep with an eye pillow and listen to those recorded sounds of rain.

  2. Dr Nancy Molitor   March 21, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Hi Roberta,

    Really liked your post. You include some very good examples of some great ways to manage this condition. I really liked your idea of planning activities in the warmer weather that you really enjoy like hiking and backpacking ( that help you focus on positive aspects of the season and also make you feel more in control) and I like your way of reframing the summer by telling yourself it won’t be around forever!

    This has been a very extraordinary year- especially for people suffering from Summer SADS- In much of the US, we not only had a very mild nonwinter, but now are seeing an unusally hot early spring. I am seeing many of my patients coming in now, in March, with aspects of summer SADs, They feel cheated out of winter and dismayed and unsettled by such warm temperatures in March.

    Wondering if others of you feel this way?

    Dr. Nancy Molitor

  3. Roberta   March 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    Since childhood I had the spring/summer SAD. Although somewhat mitigated by being out of school (I hated school as a child), I still had it. I am sure heat (which I thought I enjoyed – I lived in a hot climate) and light had something to do with it, a lot of it was that everything in the spring was coming to life. People were outdoors. People seemed happier. And I did not feel that way. Also, to me, autumn and winter are times of rest and relaxation. They are quieter than spring and summer. I enjoyed the quiet and abhorred the busy pace of summer (especially living in a beach resort). Now I am older, on meds and can grin and bear it. I can find enjoyment from the summer by planning activities: hiking, backpacking, day trips and so on. Btw, now I live in Alaska, so I HAVE to deal with the summer light with a better attitude. One thing helps me – is that I know it won’t be around forever. When the summer solstice comes I do breathe a sigh of relief. One thing, though, I wish this country would do: either stay on daylight summer time or get off of it completely. Frankly, in Alaska, I do not see the point of it. But the moving around to daylight summer time is hard for me. When we move back, again, I sigh from relief. But life is good as long as I recognize the signs and deal with them.

  4. nmolitor   February 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience . You are not alone this winter in feeling more out of phase and uncomfortable. Many of my patients report these same feelings – that they feel unsettled and restless because there was no real winter.They feel deprived of their hibernation and quiet.

    Hang in there – you sound like you have a good sense of what you need and how to take care of yourself.

    Warm Regards,

    Nancy Molitor

  5. Kim   February 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    I have Summer SAD and I keep my house as dark and cool as possible. I have pictures of wintry scenes around my house. This year is especially tough because we did not have a winter to be able to have a break from the heat and sun. It is disappointing to not be able to go outside or look out my window because the blazingly bright hot sun is ever present in the Sunshine State :( I continue to DREAM of being able to move somewhere like Seattle! Thank you for the information. Those with Summer SAD feel quite alone!

  6. Crow   November 1, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    For those with Summer SADS, I highly recommend keeping the bedroom as dark as possible (there are special “solar” curtains that are very effective). This makes the temperature cooler and will improve your overall mood and sleep. Or at least it does for me. *nod*

    I’d also generally suggest try to mimicking your environment to being closest to whatever season you feel best in (misting, AC, darkness, light, heater, etc).

    Good article btw, actually has rare, and good advice. It makes sense to just try everything opposite for Winter SADS.

  7. SAD Lights   September 23, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    From my understanding, winter SAD is caused by a reduced level of sunlight, especially in the northern lattitudes, during the winter. When there is plenty of light during the summer, it doesn’t make sense to me how winter SAD and summer SAD are connected. In people suffering with summer SAD, are there levels of serotonin lower too? Great blog! Keep up the good work!

  8. Dr Nancy Molitor   May 19, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Thank you,sana, for your post and the courage to share your thoughts with us. This helps a lot of people. Hopefully, you are reminded again, that you are not alone in feeling this way. Today, for example, I talked to two people who are dealing with this issue.

    Take good care of yourself and check back in with us, ok?

    Warm Regards,

    Dr Nancy

  9. sana quijada   May 19, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    interesting. i’ve not thought about summer SAD. winter gets most press that i’ve seen. i luv’d the reminders about not being alone in our sadness and the tools you recommended resonated. keep on.