Summer SAD and How to Manage It

Summer’s here! The sun is shining! School is out and work is offering half-day Fridays! So why am I feeling so miserable?

If this is you, you’re not alone. Much like the popular song by Lana Del Rey, people may experience that “Summertime Sadness,” otherwise known as summer-pattern SAD or summer depression.

Usually when people think about SAD (seasonal affective disorder), they think of it happening in the winter months when the days are short, cold, and dark. According to the most recent research, about 4-6% of the US population experiences SAD at some point during the year. And within that group of individuals, about 10% experience it during the summer.

How do I know if I have summer-pattern SAD?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, winter-pattern SAD typically looks like a depressed mood plus sleeping more, eating more, and withdrawing from others. Conversely, with summer-pattern SAD, people may experience a depressed and anxious mood along with trouble sleeping, a reduced appetite, feeling agitated or restless, and an increase in aggression.

Why does summer-pattern SAD happen?

Summer depression can happen for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, usual routines are disrupted. Kids who are usually at school are now home all day and you’ve got to keep them occupied AND juggle your usual workload. Or perhaps you’re trying to juggle travel schedules. Or adjusting to seasonal changes in your job. Any of these things can trigger distress.

There can also be a felt pressure that we need to have the Best! Summer! Ever! We see people posting pictures of themselves at the beach or gallivanting around Europe and we feel guilty or ashamed that we’re missing out on the fun that we think we “should” be having. Beyond this fear of missing out, there is also the stress of being able to afford (or not being able to afford) all of these extravagant adventures.

Warmer weather is often associated with shorts and swimsuits…both of which can also trigger people who have body image difficulties. Unlike in the winter when we are all bundled under layers upon layers, in the summer we are literally more exposed, and not everyone feels comfortable baring less. As a result, people can end up feeling more self-conscious which in turn can increase feelings of depression and anxiety.

What can I do to help myself if I have summer-pattern SAD?

I’m so glad you asked! While there aren’t any formal treatments specific to summer-pattern SAD, there are some steps you can take to help yourself.

  • Be proactive. If you know this is something that affects you, get additional support in place before you reach the summer. This might include leaning more on your friends, connecting with a therapist, or exploring antidepressant medications.
  • Stay cool (literally– a warm person is often an agitated person).
  • Try to maintain your sleep routine as much as possible, especially with longer days, travel, and late nights of festivities. Getting consistent sleep is so important to keeping depression at bay. Same goes for maintaining some sort of daily routine.
  • Open-ended time can lead to boredom which is a slippery slope to depression.
  • Spend your time how you genuinely want to, not how you think you should it. We can cause ourselves grief by overspending on a vacation that we think we have to take, only to then be dealing with the stress of the financial cost. We don’t need a big, expensive trip to have fun. Check out a local festival, camp in the backyard, take a half-day trip, attend a movie in the park night – there are so many low/no-cost activities out there.
  • Stop comparing your summer to others’ experiences. It can be easy to get stuck scrolling through people’s vacation posts and then criticizing ourselves for not spending summer in the “right way.” If you find yourself getting caught up in social media comparisons, consider taking a break from the apps.
  • Practice body positivity or body neutrality. Summer wear like swimsuits are not reserved for one body type. People with any and every body type deserve to wear what makes them feel stylish and comfortable. Go ahead and rock whatever makes you feel good, whether it’s a comfy t-shirt, sundress, or yellow polkadot bikini!