We all have bouts of feeling less than motivated to complete our to-do list. We might just want to lie in bed for an extra hour or watch one more episode on Netflix or not change out of our PJs. But these so-called “lazy days” don’t compare to depression, a mental state when those afflicted feel hopeless or like nothing in their world quite matters. This feeling can increase especially during the winter, when the sun tends to hide behind clouds and we have to run from one indoor space to the next to avoid blasts of cold wind. Most likely you’ve heard this dubbed as seasonal affective disorder, but what you might not know is that it can also occur outside of the reclusive chilly months. In fact, hot temps can cause some to feel just as trapped and low as cold weather times.
Though seasonal depression is uncommon—it occurs in a small percentage of the population and most often females—the symptoms shouldn’t be ignored or left untreated. Coming out of the state could be as simple as a change of scenery or cognitive behavioral therapy or may require more invasive techniques, like intervention paired with antidepressant medication. As the season turns and weather cools, symptoms could decrease, and treatment might subside, but it’s important to keep an eye on any similar signs that could return as the heat picks up again the next year.
Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif., steps through what having the summer blues really means and what actions someone who’s experiencing it can take to enjoy this sunny season.
What is it?
The phrase “fun in the sun” rings through the air once bathing suit season hits, but for some it’s anything but. Hot weather, extended exposure to sun and increased hours of daylight that disrupt sleep patterns and decrease relaxation time before bed are all huge factors for those who are prone to developing the summer blues. Research shows incidence of summertime depression occurs in less than one percent of the population and usually in individuals who have experienced depression in the past, but the symptoms are real and can be debilitating.
Why does it develop?
While it’s not entirely certain why some people develop the summer blues over others, reasons may include a history of untreated depression and mood disorders, discontent over physical appearance when having to choose hot weather-appropriate clothing like bathing suits or shorts, and the increased talk about getting the perfect beach body. (Let’s be real: There’s absolutely no such thing as “perfect,” and we’re totally on board with the idea that every body is a beach body.)
Depression is more commonly diagnosed in females. With kids out of school, moms can especially feel the heightened stress of summer. The worry of getting kids to summer camp, baseball tournaments and play dates and even arranging childcare during these less-structured months can lead to a depressive state of mind. Speak up and ask for help if you feel any negative drops in your mood or attention. Your mental and emotional health is just as important as your kids having a care-free summer break.
Is there a cure?
Searching for solutions to the summer blues may be desirable, but a more realistic approach focuses on managing emotions. First, don’t get too down on yourself. Recognize that everyone has the tendency of experiencing negative moods. When this hits, think about what’s going well in your life and the good things that have come in the past that allowed you to survive and succeed. Then, give yourself a break. Plan out moments once a week for yourself to work in quiet time and activities you enjoy doing. As you go through your days, pay attention to any symptoms of depression like sleep disturbances, weight changes or feeling agitated or anxious, and seek therapy, talk with a mental health professional or attend a support group to loosen that feeling of isolation or those festering negative thoughts.
When life gets busy or chaotic, try to stay true to your schedule. Making an effort to preserve a consistent routine will boost your self-esteem and sense of competence. Even small changes like installing blackout shades to keep the room darker longer, keeping fans on and the air conditioning at a comfortable temperature to manage over-heating and humidity, and drinking plenty of water can keep mood fluctuations and physical discomfort at bay.
Just as people take vacations to tropical places in the winter, consider taking a leave to a cooler destination in the summer. If that’s just not in your budget, a quick change of environment can help. Head to the local mall, museum, art gallery or other indoor attraction that’s air conditioned. The change of scenery, no matter if it’s minutes or miles away, can help alleviate any down-in-the-dumps emotions.
Can it be prevented?
While people who have experienced depression in the past are most likely the ones to suffer from seasonal affective disorder, that isn’t always the case. Environmental changes can cause a spontaneous episode of low mood, anxiety and emotional dysregulation in anyone. Prevention is key when talking about your happiness levels, so seek help if you ever feel off. Talking it out can provide a way to manage your mood and other symptoms that come along with seasonal depression. You’ve totally got this.