Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is usually associated with winter. But many people find the summer months to be the more difficult part of the year. So why does this happen, and what can you do to manage it? Here is what you need to know to prevent or reduce SAD this summer.
What Is SAD?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression. Unlike other forms of depression, which may be present all year long or come and go seemingly at random, SAD is tied to a specific season. Women are far more likely to suffer from SAD then men, though this difference narrows in older adults.
Winter-pattern SAD, which occurs during the dark, cold months, is typically considered more common than summer-pattern SAD, which occurs when the days lengthen.
Common SAD Symptoms
Both types of SAD tend to produce symptoms of major depression, such as intense sadness, losing interest in previously enjoyable activities, trouble concentrating, and even thoughts of suicide. However, there are also some differences.
People with winter-pattern SAD tend toward “hibernation,” including oversleeping and avoiding social contacts. People with summer-pattern SAD typically experience insomnia and restlessness. Winter-pattern SAD tends to cause overeating, while summer-pattern SAD might lead to loss of appetite. In addition, those with summer-pattern SAD can experience anxiety and even a tendency toward aggression.
Possible Causes of Summer SAD
Generally, winter-pattern SAD is better understood than summer-pattern SAD. Commonly cited causes of the former include decreased serotonin due to shorter periods of sunlight, overproduction of melatonin (making it harder to adapt to shorter days), and the exacerbation of vitamin D deficits due to less sun exposure.
Experts believe that summer-pattern SAD involves a complex interplay between long, hot days, rising humidity levels, and even allergens. Some research indicates that rates of summer-pattern SAD may rise in the future due to climate change, as those living in northern climes experience the condition’s triggers for the first time.
People with SAD appear to have higher sensory processing sensitivity, meaning they’re more susceptible to environmental factors like heat and humidity in the summer. And for some individuals, longer days and excessive sunlight are actually correlated to higher rates of suicide and depression.
There’s also a potential cognitive link—since other people tend to be happier in warmer months, those who don’t may be anxious or depressed by the comparison.
Managing Summer-Pattern SAD
While standard treatments exist for winter-pattern SAD, including light therapy and vitamin D supplements, no such standardization has yet been applied to managing summer-pattern SAD. In general, many summer-pattern SAD sufferers get by with a combination of medications, talk therapy, frequently retreating into air-conditioned environments, and reducing stressors such as summer travel.
If you have the symptoms of summer-pattern SAD, the first step is to acknowledge that what you’re feeling is real. It’s okay not to enjoy summer trips to the beach, BBQs, and other common outdoor activities. Keep your home cool and reasonably dark, choose air-conditioned locales whenever possible, and feel free to decline summer invitations. When spending time outdoors, look for shade rather than spending hours in the direct sun.
If these self-care measures don’t help, seek professional assistance. Summer-pattern SAD is a form of major depression, and you might need medication and/or therapy to ease your symptoms and get back to feeling like yourself.