Los días son largos y soleados, pero usted se siente deprimido. Here's why some people get summer depression, and what you can do about it.
Summer is the best time of the year. Everybody says so, from William Shakespeare (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?) to the Beach Boys (Surfin’ USA). Whether you’re at the beach or throwing a barbecue at home, those long, sunny days are filled with fun.
Except when they're not. Lots of people, it turns out, have a lower mood in the warmer months. For them, year after year, it brings on the summertime blues. Experts call it Summer SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Some of the symptoms include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor appetite and weight loss
You’ve probably heard of Winter SAD, when the dark days and bad weather can keep you indoors, feeling sleepy and depressed. It affects 5 percent of Americans. But seasonal depression can happen in the summer, too.
"It's real depression," says Kelly Rohan, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Vermont who specializes in SAD. "It can interfere with important things in your life and keep you from doing things that are meaningful to you. It can even impact your relationships."
Summer SAD is the flipside to winter SAD, Rohan explains. "People experience some of the same symptoms, like losing interest in their favorite activities. But instead of happening over the late fall and winter, it lasts for much of July and August, or maybe longer. And some years might be worse than others."
Whether you get SAD in the summer or in the winter, it's important to take it seriously. In a recent study, about half of the participants who had SAD experienced serious psychiatric issues, compared to only 3.2 percent of those without SAD.
If summertime leaves you feeling down, you might be struggling with Summer SAD. Here are some of its possible triggers, plus strategies to help you cope.
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Summer SAD Triggers
There’s no one thing that causes SAD.
As the temperature goes up, so do mental health issues. "Summer depression is really sensitive to heat and humidity," says Rohan.
A 2022 study that looked at more than 3 million emergency room (ER) visits found that on days of extreme heat, ER visits increased significantly for all mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.
"There's even a global peak in suicide in the spring," says Rohan. "It coincides with the time when the minutes of daylight increase more than any other time of year." For some people, that makes the long, warm summer days a serious concern.
The part of spring and summer that nobody likes: All that pollen floating in the air. It coats your car and covers your hair. It may be good for the bees, but it can make summertime a nightmare for humans.
When it makes its way into your nose, your allergies flare up and you’re left with itchy eyes, a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and a sore throat.
To make matters worse, pollen does more than make your nose drippy. It can even affect your mental health. One study shows a strong connection between low moods and high pollen counts. And another study found that allergic rhinitis is associated with higher rates of depression than those found in the general population.
In Winter SAD, those dark days cut your supplies of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. That means your body doesn’t make enough serotonin, the hormone that makes you feel good. Plus, it makes too much of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, which can make you feel drowsy all the time.
With Summer SAD, though, the problem is reversed. Too much sunlight keeps your body from producing enough melatonin. That interferes with restful sleep and cuts down your snooze time by more than 10 minutes a night, leaving you feeling tired and anxious the next day.
There's even a summer spike in cortisol, the stress hormone, as temperatures rise. That can make you feel agitated and impact your ability to sleep.
Over the past hundred years or so, our planet has warmed up by about 33 degrees Farenheit. That might not sound like a lot, but it can cause a lot of damage.
Longer hot seasons lead to longer pollen seasons, which increase allergy symptoms. Warmer weather is connected to more wildfires, too, which can make illnesses like asthma worse. Climate change can even affect indoor air quality, as more floods increase mold, dust mites, and other indoor pollutants.
Inside your home, those pollutants are linked to heart disease and cancer. Global warming even plays a part in mental health concerns: "There's a whole new area of psychology now called climate anxiety," Rohan explains.
"Before global warming, summer depression was rare," she says. "But it's becoming more prevalent. I suspect that summer SAD will become increasingly common in response to the surge of heat and humidity worldwide."
How to Cope With Summer SAD
Unfortunately, none of these causes have a quick and easy solution. Luckily, there are steps you can take to feel better. These five strategies can help you cope with summer SAD.
Explore the Great Indoors
Limit your outdoor time, says Rohan. And before you do head outside, take a peek at the weather report. On days when the temperature, humidity and pollen levels soar, make plans to stay inside as much as possible.
Too hot to exercise outdoors? Go for your walk or your bike ride early in the morning before temperatures get too high. That's important, since exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression.
Keep it Cool
Turning on the air conditioner not only cools you off, but it also filters out pollens and other pollutants that could be giving you trouble. If you don't have AC at your home, head to your local library, community center, or coffee shop, Rohan suggests.
Another great way to cool down? Quick showers or baths. Just make sure the water isn't too warm. Or keep a small misting fan at your workspace.
Beware of Harsh Sunlight
If intense summer light bothers you, draw the curtains in your house and rely on ambiance from lamps.
And wearing sunglasses when you venture outdoors is always a good idea.
Check out of Social Media
Are your friends are posting pictures of their super summers? Seeing their backyard barbecues, picnics in the park, and charity fun-runs can just make you feel worse.
Avoid social media (or cut back) for the summer. But make sure to keep in touch with friends. Feeling isolated can make depression worse. Opt for a phone call or text instead of a Facebook message.
Seek Professional Help
If summer SAD is interfering with your life, a therapist may be able to help you feel better. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective for winter SAD (and it can help with Summer SAD, too).
Anti-depressant medication can also be effective. If you have thoughts of suicide or difficulty concentrating-and if it's been going on longer than two weeks-seek help immediately, says Rohan.
See our sources:
Seasonal affective disorder overview: National Institute of Mental Health
Study on seasonal affective disorder: BMC Psychiatry
Link between high temperatures and ER visits: JAMA Psychiatry
Allergies overview: American Academy of Family Physicians
Link between low mood and high pollen count: International Archives of Allergy and Immunology
Relationship between mental health and allergies: Current Treatment Options for Allergy
How summertime affects sleep: Sleep.com
How climate change affects air quality: United States Environmental Protection Agency
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