Are you dreading summer days as much as you used to look forward to them? Do summer days leave you feeling bluer and more drained than rejuvenated from the warmth?
If so, you may be among the many people affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - specifically, reverse seasonal affective disorder - which poses the question: What is SAD, or reverse SAD exactly?
Is Reverse SAD the Opposite of the "Winter Blues"/Winter SAD?
While we generally associate SAD with the "winter blues" and winter weather, just as many people can experience negative mental health impacts when transitioning into warmer weather. Reverse SAD (R-SAD) can be described as a summer seasonal period where symptoms of depression may occur in an individual.
This blog post will further explain this seasonal disorder, why some people experience it differently than regular winter SAD, and how best to manage this underrecognized mental health concern.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) vs Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder (R-SAD)
In its simplest form, SAD is a type of depression that follows the changing seasons, where many people are most affected during the winter months and summer months.
Research states that winter SAD can result from a lack of exposure to sun, which would then prevent the body from producing serotonin.
In a different aspect, bodies have the possibility to overproduce melatonin – affecting a person’s usual rest cycle and increasing the desire to rest (and get enough sleep). With the oncoming cold of winter, the want to be under the covers becomes irresistible.
Most people don't realize though, there's an opposite to the "winter blues": summer depression, or reverse seasonal affective disorder, characterized by an onset of seasonal depression during summertime.
The idea of feeling "blue" or depressed in the wake of summer can seem far-fetched to many, especially with winter SAD being more common with the cold.
For those living with reverse seasonal affective disorder, this is reality – just not one that's discussed often or understood enough.
Seasonal depression is something that's experienced differently by various people. Features of reverse SAD may present one way for you but look completely different for your friend.
Still, it’s important to understand that it's not just a case of feeling a “little blue” on a hot day but a real medical condition that affects individuals just like winter SAD does.
The Symptoms and Cause of R-SAD
Summer is typically associated with fun in the sun and carefree days. But for some, it can be a time of low moods and lack of motivation.
Symptoms of summer SAD are similar to those of winter SAD - including mood and weight changes (weight loss or gain) - but occur during a different season in the year.
The indicators of this summertime depression can also include fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and irritability during the summer.
If you find yourself dreading warm weather, feeling out of sorts, and unable to enjoy activities you normally love, it could be a sign that you're experiencing this condition - these signs and feelings are valid to you and to others who share the same experiences.
While the exact causes of summer depression are not fully understood, one theory is that longer days and increased sunlight exposure during summertime can disrupt the body's circadian rhythm, leading to symptoms of depression and other mood changes.
This disruption may affect the body’s release of hormones such as melatonin and serotonin, which regulate your mood and rest.
Other factors & risk contributing to summer sad syndrome:
Heat: High temperatures, humidity, and bright light during the day can be uncomfortable and lead to disturbed sleep, increasing fatigue and irritability. This may further lead to the body's struggle to regulate your internal temperature in the summer heat. Heat exhaustion can lead to feeling sick or disoriented the longer you're exposed to high temperatures.
Allergies: Seasonal pattern allergies can cause trouble with fatigue, irritability, and brain fog, which can worsen symptoms of depression.
Social isolation: The summertime can be a time of increased social activity, which can be difficult for people who feel isolated or have difficulty making social connections.
Body image issues: The warmer months may increase pressure to have a certain body type or to engage in activities like swimming or wearing more revealing clothing (ex. bathing suits), possibly contributing to image issues and low self-esteem.
Research on R-SAD
Research has also stated that lacking routine has the possibility of becoming a trigger for summer SAD, leading to symptoms of depression experienced by an individual. Summer travel, while allowing for many opportunities, may also lead to symptoms of depression – such as feeling anxiety and stress tied to finances, packing, or scheduling.
This may pose a new question for individuals who do experience reverse SAD, such as, “how will I be able to manage this?” or “what can I do to compensate for this?”
The changing of the seasons can be tough on anyone, but for those with this seasonal disorder, it can be even more demanding.
Some Tips to Manage R-SAD
If you find yourself feeling sluggish, low on energy, and generally down during the summer, here are some tips that may help manage R-SAD and incorporate self-care into your daily life:
Seek professional help: If you're experiencing symptoms of reverse SAD, it's important to seek professional help. A mental health professional can evaluate your symptoms, help identify specific triggers, provide a diagnosis, and recommend treatment options.
Minimize exposure to bright sunlight: Getting outside early or much later in the day when the sun is less intense can help regulate your circadian rhythm and promote better sleep. In the early morning hours (when harsh light is less severe), it may be cooler and easier to do whatever activities you may have in store for your day! For some, indoor spaces may be your friend!
Soak up the sun safely: Excess light can disrupt melatonin production, wreaking havoc on your sleep schedule. Protect your eyes from harmful UVA and UVB rays while beating summertime blues with sunglasses (blackout blinds for the eyes!). If you're outside and in the heat for any duration of time, remember to apply sunscreen periodically - too much sunlight isn't good!
Exercise: Regular exercise can improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Try to engage in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes, 3 or more times a week. Engaging in exercise may also help regulate your sleep schedule!
Practice stress management techniques: Stress can exacerbate symptoms of reverse SAD. Consider incorporating stress management practices like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga into your daily routine.
Take care of your physical health: Eating a nutrient-dense diet, staying hydrated, and getting adequate rest can all help manage symptoms of reverse SAD. If you are outside for long periods of time or you are exercising for any length of time, drinking plenty of water is great for keeping you regulated and from getting too hot!
Stay social: Don't let the summer heat trap you at home, feeling down or lonely. Simply being around friends or family can do wonders for your mood. A friends or family coffee shop date indoors (with air conditioning!) or, on a cooler day, a picnic at the park or near water to reconnect with nature and find inner peace. A venture to the outdoors can help you cope with your low mood!
It's critical to recognize that not every point mentioned to manage reverse SAD is applicable to everyone who experiences it.
R-SAD isn't limited to just a select few individuals – anyone can experience it – and it can be treated in numerous ways, whether with antidepressants or with therapy, as research has shown these to be some effective methods of treatment.
Seeking Professional Help for Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder
The summer months are meant to be a time of familiar fun, play, and relaxation, but for some, they can bring on feelings of seasonal pattern depression and summertime sadness.
It's important to remember that managing reverse SAD can be a process of trial and error, and what works for one person may not work for you.
Recognizing and monitoring individual seasonal mood patterns are important steps to take when managing your summer depression – knowing which coping methods work best for you can help to alleviate the feeling of distress.
If you're experiencing summer depression, staying open to these strategies and seeking help from a mental health professional can make a big difference in how you feel. Therapy can provide a safe space for sorting through distress and finding practical solutions for summer depression.
The process of working through your summer depression may not be “quick” or “easy" and it takes time to monitor and learn your mood or energy shifts that take place during the summer months.
Safe Talk Therapy Can Help!
There is no “one-size-fits-all” method of coping and navigating summer depression can feel daunting to do alone. Remember, depression and mental illness is not a sign of weakness, and neither is asking for help!
Here at Safe Talk Therapy, I'm more than happy to offer support - so please don't hesitate to reach out, no matter what time of year! You deserve to feel comfortable and enjoy your summer, and with the right tools and guidance, you are capable of getting there.