Summertime Blues

Summertime Blues?

Upstate New Yorkers are all too familiar with the winter blues. It’s cold and dark, lack of sunlight and too much time indoors certainly seems to affect our mood. But, did you know that there is such a thing as summertime seasonal depression?

You may have heard about seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. SAD typically causes depression as the days get shorter and colder. However, about 10% of people with SAD get it in the reverse — the onset of summer triggers their depression symptoms. Specific symptoms of summer depression often include loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, weight loss, and anxiety. Experts aren’t exactly sure why this seasonal change can cause depression, but here are some theories:

  • Disrupted schedules in summer. A reliable routine helps prevent depression symptoms. During the summer, routine goes out the window – and that disruption can be stressful. If you have children in grade school, you’re suddenly faced with keeping them occupied all day, every day. If your kids are in college, you may suddenly find them – and all their boxes of stuff – back in the house after a nine-month absence. Vacations can disrupt your work, sleep, and eating habits – all of which can contribute to summer depression.
  • Body image issues. As the temperature climbs and the layers of clothing fall away, a lot of people feel self-conscious about their bodies. Feeling embarrassed in shorts or a bathing suit can affect your self-esteem and lead to sadness. Since so many summertime gatherings revolve around beaches and pools, some people start avoiding social situations, and isolation can contribute to depression.
  • Financial worries. Summers can be expensive. You may find yourself having to provide three meals to children who normally get free or reduced breakfast and lunch at school. Some families feel the pressure to pull off a great vacation. If you’re a working parent, you may have to spend a lot more money on child care while your kids are out of school in order to keep your job. The extra expenses can add to a feeling of summer depression.
  • The heat. Some people enjoy summertime heat. They love laying on a beach all day. But for the people who don’t, the summer heat can become truly oppressive. You may start spending all your time hiding out in your air-conditioned home, binge watching Netflix. You may become more sedentary, cook less, and eat less healthy. Any of these things can contribute to summer depression.

Tips for Coping with Summer Depression

What can help you feel better? What can you do to make this summer different? Here are some tips on taking control of summer depression.

  • Get help. If you think you’re getting depressed, no matter what time of year, get help as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor, and possibly a therapist, who can determine the severity and a plan to address it. Never take the signs of depression lightly, wait them out, and assume they’ll resolve. Sometimes, what started as summer depression can turn into a longer-lasting bout of major depression, so the earlier you get help the easier it can be to recover and maybe enjoy what remains of the summer.
  • Plan ahead. One advantage of seasonal depression is that it’s predictable. So think ahead about the specific aspects of your life that become difficult during the summer and what might help prevent depression. Is there a way to take time off from work? Would signing kids up for summer programs or camp help relieve your stress? Are there family or community resources you have been reluctant to use that could help?
  • Sleep. Vacations, summer barbecues, the short nights – they can all encourage you to stay up later and sleep in later than usual. But not getting enough sleep, or sleeping too much during the day are common triggers for depression. So make a concerted effort to stick to a bed time and set an alarm to get up in the morning.
  • Keep up with your exercise. Many studies have found that regular physical activity can help keep depression at bay. Take a walk or run earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when it’s not so hot. Consider an at home workout, there are many work out plans you can find for free on-line. If an annual membership to a gym is too expensive, consider joining one for a couple of months just to get you through the summer.
  • Set boundaries for yourself. Don’t let obligations stress you out. If hosting the enormous family barbecue on Memorial Day or the Labor Day picnic feels overwhelming, maybe give it a pass this year. Ask another relative or friend to take a turn at hosting.
  • Plan your vacation carefully. A vacation should be a chance to relax and recharge. Before you fill a whole week, or even multiple weeks of vacation time with stressful travel plans and theme park visits, ask yourself, is that what you really want, or if it is an obligation you’re feeling to someone else, including your children. Will it also make you happy? Or will it only stretch your finances and stress you out? If that answer is yes, consider alternatives. Instead of taking a whole week off at once, maybe it would be better to take off several long weekends spread out through the summer? Would taking time off but staying at home – a “stay-cation” – be more relaxing? Don’t get locked into a vacation that won’t feel like a vacation. Often children are just as content, and also may be less stressed, with a day trip here and there, such as mini golf and ice cream!

 

By Shawn Johnston, Clinic Director

Shawn Johnston, Clinical Director at The Neighborhood Center

Posted by Lauren Lottermoser