Summertime sadness is real

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) results a form of depression Usually associated with the darker winter months, it can also take hold in the summer.

While its symptoms may be different from its winter counterpart (cold-weather SAD typically makes people feel lethargic, while summer SAD makes them more agitated), it is also a condition triggered by seasonal changes.

That makes it an issue of particular concern amid the increase in extreme heat in 2024 and the temperature spikes to come. As hot as June has been in the US, Temperatures are expected to rise in the coming months. These spikes underline the effects of climate change and how rising temperatures around the world are leading to hotter and longer summers. That reality is likely to exacerbate summer SAD and could make it more common.

“The warm environment is getting hotter” Norman Rosenthal, the Georgetown University psychiatrist who first described SAD told Vox. “So that’s what’s going to make this more important than ever, as a factor to take into account in terms of mental health.”

Fortunately, there are things you can do to mitigate the effects of seasonal affective disorder in the summer, which can include feeling depressed, less productive, and wanting to be left alone. It can also make people feel overstimulated and, in some cases, increases the risk of suicide.

The key to combating summer SAD is understanding your triggers, including the influx of heat and light that arrives during this part of the year. That means finding shade, cool areas and more. Here’s what you need to know about summer SAD and what to do to overcome it.

What is summer SAD? And why does SAD occur in summer?

Like winter SAD, summer SAD is caused by unique seasonal developments.

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Just as a lack of light can affect people’s mood in winter, its excess, along with heat and humidity, can also affect people in summer.

Researchers have found that heat can make people feel more fatigued, irritable, and aggressive, and that excess light can do the same. Both variables can also interfere with people’s circadian rhythms and sleep schedules, which can also have effects on mental health.

“The heat exhausts you, it takes away your energy,” Rosenthal told Vox. “The light shakes you.”

Kelly RohanA psychology professor at the University of Vermont who studies seasonal affective disorder, says not much is known about why these attributes specifically trigger seasonal depression and that more research needs to be done in this area more generally. Because summer seasonal affective disorder is less common than winter seasonal affective disorder, it has not yet been analyzed to the same degree. About 10 percent of people who experience seasonal affective disorder do so in the summer. experts estimate.

Rosenthal notes that people who experience summer SAD often have a genetic predisposition to depression that can be triggered by seasonal events. Rohan adds that seasonal allergies could also play a role because they increase people’s discomfort in summer and cause inflammation, which is related to depression too.

Although people who experience SAD in winter and summer share feelings of withdrawal and sadness, the other symptoms they have can be markedly different.

“In the summer people feel restless,” says Rosenthal. “And although they are depressed, they have an excess of internal energy.”

The combination of energy and agitation is linked to an increased risk of suicide. People in summer may be more activated and inclined to take action, for example, while people in winter are less energetic and less inclined to take action.

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If you suspect you may have summer SAD, the best thing you can do is talk to a doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing. As a way to assess the pattern of symptoms, Rosenthal recommends that people think back over the past few years and try to remember if they had negative mood swings related to the start of the season.

Again, it is important to note that consulting a medical professional is vital in addressing mental health issues, and this guide is not a substitute for that.

Some of the recommendations that experts have suggested, however, are possible ways to curb certain symptoms of SAD.

Cooling the body with tools such as air conditioning and 15-minute cold showers is one way to improve the negative effects of heat.

In a 1987 studyRohan notes, one patient took several cold showers a day while staying in an air-conditioned house. That approach helped significantly improve their mood, but it was difficult to maintain when they went outdoors and were exposed to the heat shortly after the study.

If options like that are inaccessible, other ideas for cooling off include visiting public spaces like libraries and museums, and bodies of water like rivers and lakes.

Shaded areas, under trees and umbrellas, can also be helpful.

It may also be helpful to reduce light exposure by using devices such as blackout curtains.

Dimming the light in a room can be calming, Rosenthal says, allowing people to relax a bit if they’re feeling agitated. “If you understand that temperature is an issue, that light is an issue, you can adjust your environments to minimize these irritations,” she says.

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Researchers have found that using items like blackout curtains It can also help improve sleep quality, ensuring people feel better rested and less anxious.

Feelings of anxiety and agitation may be related to how disruptive extreme heat can be to a person’s typical routine, including sleep, exercise, and other usual activities.

Establishing a consistent daily routine can help maintain a sense of stability and structure. despite these disturbances.

Experts emphasize that treatments used for depression more broadly (including antidepressant medications and cognitive behavioral therapy) also apply to SAD and can be used to address it.

“All antidepressants currently used for general depression can also be used for summer depression,” Rosenthal writes in his 2023 book, Defeating SAD.

Rohan echoed this point. He warned, however, that some Antidepressants could interfere with the body’s ability. to regulate temperature, and that it is important to be aware of this when going this route.

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