Anyone who’s gotten the winter blues before will be familiar with SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.
The term refers to a mood shift that changes when the weather does, such as getting depressed in the colder seasons.
But for those of us who feel more miserable in the summer months, it can be hard to pinpoint why the sun seems to bring us down.
However, it seems we’re not alone.
As the NHS says, “Some people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter”. And Forbes says, “Around 10% of people with SAD experience it... as summer SAD”.
What are the signs I have “summer depression”?
The NHS says that warning signs can include constant feelings of despair, a lack of interest in your hobbies, weight loss, disrupted sleeping patterns, a lowered libido, and even a craving for carbs.
“For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their day-to-day activities”, they add.
In other words, if you start to become lethargic and unhappy, and experience a shift in appetite when the sun comes out, you might be suffering from summer depression.
So, what’s going on here?
Well, first of all, experts disagree on what exactly causes SAD.
The argument you’d expect – that the change in light affects a person’s circadian rhythm – does seem to ring somewhat true in the development of SAD.
And Medical News Today says that “it seems logical that melatonin levels play a role” in summer depression.
Forbes adds that having a history of depression, living further from the equator (i.e. in the UK), and even being a woman could put you at higher risk.
But Stephen Buckley, head of information at the mental health charity Mind, told Patient UK that “It is important to say that the causes of SAD are unlikely to be purely physical and that we don’t fully understand them.”
“Lots of people find body image worries are heightened in summer, especially for people who are unhappy with their weight, size or have scars from self-harming, for example. Also, longer daylight hours and shorter nights can cause disruption to our sleep patterns”, he added.
Forbes also mentions that “There are a number of social pressures unique to the summertime that can trigger seasonal depression. This can include worrying about how you’ll look in your swimsuit to fretting about whether you’re going to enough events and taking full advantage of the warm weather.”
And lastly, “Parents can face additional stressors if their kids are out of school for the summer, as they may need to juggle their childrens’ schedules while keeping up with work and their own responsibilities.”
No wonder some of us struggle when the sun comes out, right?
So, what can I do about it?
When you’re feeling blue, it can be hard to motivate yourself to take action to improve your mental health.
But the NHS says that lifestyle factors like exercise, talking therapy, and antidepressants can all help if you’re feeling the summer blues.
And the Mayo Clinic suggests we “get enough sleep to help you feel rested, but be careful not to get too much rest, as SAD symptoms often lead people to feel like hibernating.“
They add that we should practice stress management and “make an effort to connect with people you enjoy being around.”
“It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your health care provider”, they say.
“This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.”