Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during a specific season. Most people with SAD experience it during the fall and winter; it’s believed that the shorter days and lack of sunlight during these months lead to the changes in circadian rhythm which cause SAD. However, an estimated 10% of those with SAD experience difficulty in the spring and summer, a condition called reverse seasonal affective disorder. Although less is known about SAD during the warmer months, it can be exacerbated by several factors, including:
- Genetic predisposition: As with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), If you have family members who suffer from SAD, you may be at higher risk of also experiencing it.
- Financial difficulty: Many people can feel pressured to have the same type of glamorous vacations and days full of exciting activities that are seen everywhere on social media during the summer months, even when it doesn't make fiscal sense.
- Lack of activity: Although summer is usually associated with lots of outdoor activities, not everyone is well-suited to spending a lot of time in high heat or humidity. Staying indoors while others enjoy the outdoors can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, while the lack of exercise keeps your body from generating feel-good endorphins that could otherwise help boost your mood.
- Body image trouble: Coming out of layered winter clothes and heavier holiday eating into bathing suits and pool parties isn’t easy for many people, and that discomfort can keep some from participating in summertime activities altogether if they’re dissatisfied with their body image. The pressure for a "bikini body" can lead to the types of restrictive dieting and overexercising which sap energy and create negative thinking.
- Expectations: In the wintertime, it’s easy to imagine and idealize all that summer can bring: summer fairs, beach time, kayaking. But busy schedules and work obligations can keep your summer from turning out as fun as you may have expected, leading to feelings of missing out on the type of memorable summer you "should" be having.
SAD in the winter months is characterized by a few specific symptoms, including:
- Lower energy levels
- Changes in weight (most often weight gain)
When a person experiences SAD in the summertime, however, the symptoms tend to include:
- Weight loss
The symptoms for both autumn/winter and spring/summer SAD coincide with the other classic symptoms of depression:
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Loss of interest in activities
If you’ve noticed these symptoms in yourself, there’s a few things you can do:
- Get help: Whether you have depression that’s getting worse during the summer or your depression is season-specific, it’s important to reach out for professional help.
- Try to avoid burn out: Between parties, vacations, and family gatherings, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with all the fun you’re “supposed” to be having. If you’re feeling tapped out socially, it’s okay to decline and recharge.
- Stay on top of your self-care: Healthy eating and exercise are sometimes easier said than done but can go a long way towards boosting your mood. Avoid restrictive diets that leave you feeling deprived and schedule your exercise during the cooler parts of the day.