Q: I've heard a lot about the "winter blues," but I actually feel really down in the summer. Is there such a thing as the summertime blues—or anything I do to help with it?|
A: Although the winter blues are a common and well-known form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), there is a lesserknown summertime version of the disorder as well. It follows a similar pattern: Symptoms come on at the same time of the year (during spring and/or summer months) and usually get better when the seasons change. In contrast with winter-onset SAD, symptoms might include anxiety, trouble sleeping (insomnia), irritability, agitation, unintended weight loss, poor appetite, and increased sex drive.
These symptoms often start off relatively mildly and then get progressively worse as summer goes on before they start to clear up in the fall. Experts aren't sure exactly how seasonal changes affect mood but believe it has something to do with how changes in the length of days, temperature and humidity affect brain chemistry. It also seems likely that season-related changes in one's daily routines and activities may play a role, especially if these changes disrupt your normal work, sleep, eating and/or exercise routines—or increase stress.
But regardless of how, why, or when it happens, the best thing to do if you think you're getting depressed (or will get depressed again when the summer season hits) is to talk to your doctor about it. There's no guarantee that symptoms will get better in a few months if you just wait them out, and no reason to suffer through even just a few months of potentially life-disrupting depression if you can do something now to help minimize the effects.
In addition to getting appropriate medical help, here are a couple things you can do to help minimize the problems that summer SAD can cause:
Plan ahead. If you know that the arrival of summer is likely to mean an onset of depression, start thinking ahead of time (before you get depressed) about what kinds of problems that it's caused in the past, and what you can do to minimize those problems this time. Identify which parts of your life became especially difficult when your depression came on, and plan ahead to minimize those problems and/or get some help. For example, if it's really hard for you to manage with the kids home from school, see if you can sign them up for some daytime activity programs this summer, or ask a friend or family member if they can help with childcare, housework, meals or anything else that would take some of the stress out of the situation for you.
Keep moving. Physical activity is one of the most effective treatments for depression—and also one of the first things that people tend to stop doing when they get depressed. If that's your pattern, line up an exercise buddy ahead of time, and give them permission to do what it takes to get you up and moving even when you tell them you don't feel like it.
Get enough sleep. Even though the days are longer, you still need a solid eight hours of sleep, especially if you're struggling with depression. Make sure your bedroom curtains are heavy enough to block out light if that's what's keeping you awake when going to bed at a reasonable time. If nagging thoughts are making it tough to get restful ZZZs, try writing them down in a journal right before bed. That way, you'll be able to calm your mind and relax enough to fall asleep.
Learn to say "no." Even if you "always" host the entire family for a weekend-long Fourth of July celebration, it's OK to ask someone else to take over for you when you're not feeling up to it. Putting extra stress on yourself won't make your depression better. In fact, this annual stress may be triggering your depression symptoms in the first place.
Ask for help. Finally, if you haven't talked to your doctor about your summertime blues, make an appointment today. A short series of visits with a qualified therapist could be all you need to manage your seasonal depression and enjoy the summer season.
Mayo Clinic, "Seasonal Affective Disorder," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on July 15, 2013.
WebMD, "Tips for Summer Depression," www.webmd.com, accessed on July 15, 2013.