Depression and anxiety; they’re both often associated with winter; the cold, dark nights and the blues – but what about when seasonal affective disorder worsens in the summer months? For many people, battling depression in the summer months can be a lot harder than at other times of year.
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder, also referred to as seasonal anxiety disorder) is commonly known to mostly affect people in the winter months – when the weather is miserable, it’s too cold to go outside, we get sick and it feels like we go months without seeing the sunshine. But SAD is not reserved for the cooler months, in fact 10% of sufferers in the UK only experience symptoms in the summer months.
The winter almost offers a comfort blanket to escape behind for those battling with depression – blaming the weather, a cold or genuine winter blues for not coming along to an event in winter is perfectly excusable. – But what reason could you possibly have for not wanting to “make the most” of the summer days, to “waste” them locked away at home when the weather is so great?
When the sun is shining in the UK – like it has been for the last few months – there are few of us who don’t try to make the most of the longer days; summers in the park, garden BBQ’s and even trips down to your local beach – all things that can feel impossible when you’re fighting to get out of bed each morning.
There are the summer weddings, the family get-togethers, the group picnics, the weeks away on holiday – and for those of us with kids – six weeks of entertaining to organise with little respite, leaving little time for yourself to escape everything for a few hours.
One of the worst things about suffering with depression during the summer months, is that you’re expected to have a good time because everyone else is; you’re expected to go out more, to make the most of the longer days and warmer nights, to join family and friends at a whole host of different events – often putting on the pressure and worsening the symptoms of depression that you’re already battling with.
But what causes people to suffer from SAD in the summer months?
SAD affects a relatively small group of those who suffer with depression, so research into what it is that causes the onset of depression with seasonal changes is very limited. However, what we do know is that from the few studies that have taken place scientists believe that SAD in the winter months could be caused by a lack of sunlight and therefore lower melatonin levels.
Melatonin – as well as being the “sleep hormone” – is the direct precursor for serotonin (a neurotransmitter that relays messages from area of the brain to another influencing cells related to memory, sleep, behaviour, mood and sexual desire) and some scientists believe that too little sunlight could be the catalyst on bringing on winter depression and anxiety.
With that being said, it could be possible that too much sunlight could cause people to become depressed when the days become longer. Research suggests that those living closer to the equator – for example in India – have much higher occurrences of summer SAD than in the winter SAD, well as those of use in Northern Europe are more likely to experience the symptoms of depression and anxiety in the winter months.
Another suggestion for what causes SAD to occur in the summer months is the combination of the heat, humidity and/or dryness in the air. Heat can cause many of us to have difficulty sleeping, reduce our appetite and lower our energy levels – which in turn can worsen the symptoms of depression. Well as dryness and humidity can leave us feeling exhausted after the simplest of tasks, worsen our allergies and cause of number of irritations such heat rash, sun burn or dehydration.
Summer – like the festive period – completely changes our routines, something people who suffer with depression often find discomfort in. Our children are home from school or university, there are holidays away to organise, a handful of events to plan for, buy presents for and attend – all of these things can disrupt our sleeping patterns, eating habits and mostly our daily routines, all of which can be factors in worsening depression.
Like the festive period the summer can also be a lot more expensive – there’s a holiday to plan, outfits to buy for special events, gifts to buy for weddings. Our kids are home and bored and hungry all day, and our adult children are back from university for three months eating us out of house and home. Finances can play a huge role in worsening the symptoms of depression with many people becoming consumed by money worries or spiraling debt.
Body image could also be a huge factor in the cause of summer SAD. As the temperature rises and we head to the local parks and beaches, we’re suddenly on display to all those around us – comparing ourselves and our bodies or suffering whilst staying covered up in the heat. For some of us, staying at home is much easier than dealing with the huge pressure to “look good” thanks to constant social media campaigns, glossy magazines and unrealistic body images in advertisements.
A combination of pressures; from body image as we head to the beaches, everyone around us having fun, longer days and sleepless nights – we may never know the direct causes of summer SAD but if you find yourself suffer similar symptoms at a similar time year after year, speak to a professional to seek a diagnosis and about how to best manage your symptoms to make the summer a more enjoyable time of year.
Trying to eat a balanced diet, avoiding high sugar or high processed ingredients, getting as much sleep as possible (waking sleeping and waking at the same time every night) and trying to fit in 30 minutes of exercise three times a week have all been shown to improve the symptoms of depression and anxiety in various studies – if you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression, regardless of the time of year, taking these small steps might help lessen your symptoms alongside seeking help from a professional.