By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT
In the winter months, it is common for people to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The disorder will come and go with the winter season, but can cause a lot of suffering and discomfort during those months. People can also experience SAD in the summer. It is not as common as winter SAD, but can be just as difficult to manage.
Symptoms of SAD include feeling depressed most of the day and almost every day, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, low energy, sleep disruption, noticeable changes in appetite or weight, feeling agitated, difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless or worthless, and frequent thoughts of suicide. These symptoms can be brought on because of the limited daylight available during these months. This can affect one’s natural sleep cycle and the chemistry in their brain. People usually stay inside more during these months because of harsher, cold weather, and can feel more isolated.
People can also experience similar symptoms in the summer. Summer SAD includes many of the same symptoms people experience in the winter months, such as sleep disruption, noticeable changes in appetite or weight, and increased anxiety. In some of the areas of the country that experience intense heat in the summer months, such as Sacramento, the onset of summer SAD can lead to staying indoors and keeping blinds closed to keep the heat out. Since it is so hot throughout the day, the ability to exercise outside is also affected, which can cause an increase in SAD symptoms, as well as symptoms related to anxiety, ADHD, and depression.
Here are some ways to manage SAD in the summer:
Talk to your mental health professional about the symptoms you are experiencing to see if it fits the description for a diagnosis of SAD. Your therapist can also help you work on some relaxation techniques that may help calm your mind from increased anxiety resulting from SAD.
You can also try exercising indoors at a gym or in your home with assistance of one of the many free smartphone and computer apps that coach you through workouts. It’s important to get at least 20-30 minutes of activity per day for better physical and mental health.
A person’s sleep cycle is also greatly affected by changes in the seasons. Make sure to stay away from substances, such as caffeine and alcohol, as they can disrupt sleep. Cut off use of these substances at least three hours before you plan to go to bed.
Finally, if you are experiencing symptoms related to changes in appetite and weight gain, practicing mindfulness when eating may be helpful. Mindful eating can help a person slow down and focus in the moment on the experience of eating food. Use your five senses as a guide when using this practice. This exercise will allow you to slow down and connect with your food so you are not eating mindlessly and possibly overeating. Also, try to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans when choosing your meals, which can be found at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/
Lewis, J. G. (2015 January 14) Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD in the Summer. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-babble/201501/reverse-seasonal-affective-disorder-sad-in-the-summer
Mayo Clinic Staff. (25 October 2017). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
Robinson, L. Segal, J. & Smith, M. (March 2018). The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise, HelpGuide.org. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm