The other day I was talking to someone about that feeling that can happen in the summer; you’re reluctant to go outside, its boiling hot, there’s no relief in sight in the forecast, and it’s making you overly sluggish, and avoidant of outside. Maybe you’re walking down the street and you’re suddenly overcome with a hot flash, and heat stroke has stuck again, and it happened so fast, now you’re violently ill, and out for a few days, and again, avoidant of outside. Maybe now you haven’t seen friends in a few days and haven’t eaten much either because who wants to be boiling hot with a full stomach?
This doesn’t happen to everyone, and it is an under-researched topic. It’s Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but in the SUMMER.
Clinically speaking, what is SAD? It is a diagnosable form of depression where the changes in seasons result in a disturbance in your mood (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021). SAD in the summer is less common than in the fall or winter months; however, some theories explaining summertime SAD usually include biological explanations, such as: overproduction of melatonin or reduced levels of serotonin (Jerai, 2022).
The overproduction of melatonin – melatonin is the hormone controlling the sleep-wake cycle and responds to darkness. Summer days mean shorter “darkness” periods, which in turn, reduces the production of melatonin, and may result in sleep problems such as insomnia.
Reduced levels of serotonin – serotonin is a chemical that regulates mood.
Other theories explaining SAD in the summer include social challenges that may affect one’s mood and mental health, such as, body image concerns - the need to dress in lighter apparel can trigger anxiety and worry (Jerai, 2022).
Figure 1: [too-hot-clipart]. (2019). Retrieved July 31, 2023, from https://clipground.com/pics/get
What does summertime SAD look like exactly?
Often, symptoms of summertime SAD include:
agitation and anxiety, and
increased irritability (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021).
If summertime SAD has affected you in a way that has kept you indoors, this may lead to a deficiency in vitamin D. Vitamin D helps boost serotonin activity in the brain, without out it, our moods can be significantly impacted (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021).
Who is at Risk?
Summertime SAD can affect anyone; however, you will most commonly see it in individuals who have previously been diagnosed with major depression or bipolar disorder. These individuals are at increased risk for manic episodes that are specifically linked to a certain season in the year (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021).
If you have any family history of SAD, major depression, or bipolar disorder, you may also be at risk for summertime SAD.
“Seasons and reasons as a framework to check in with your mental wellbeing”
- Dr. Patricia Miller
Dr. Miller (2022) emphasizes the importance of:
diet - getting sufficient nutrients that provide us with the vitamins and energy we need to regulate our moods.
movement - physical activity releases endorphins in our brains which activate neurotransmitters that help us to feel pleasure and an overall sense of wellbeing.
sleep schedule - having a consistent sleep schedule helps our body acclimate when it cannot rely on itself to wake us up or put us to sleep. Sticking to a schedule is training for our biological clock. Prefrontal cortex research tells us that too little or too much sleep is bad for us, and the optimal sleep is 7-8 hours (Lindberg, 2021; Muzur et al., 2022).
Lastly, talking to a health professional if you are feeling adjustments in your mood, or think you may have seasonal depression may be a good option for you. They can help develop a plan of action for you that will fit your specific case more closely than the general tips and information we have provided here today (Miller, 2022).