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Beating the Summer Blues
Posted by Julia Tortorice

Many picture summertime as this joyous time of the year, with the sun shining brightly and the days longer than ever; it's typically seen as a time for fun, outdoor activities, and social connections. However, only some people share this sunny outlook. Have you ever felt a wave of what's known as the "summer blues"? Although the blues are more commonly associated with the wintertime, the excessive heat in the summer can also bring about feelings of lethargy and isolation as we spend much of our time indoors. 

When a seasonal change happens, such as the onset of an intense heat wave during the summer, and it begins to affect your behavior, this is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Although the summer blues are a less common type of seasonal depression, it's still a very real issue that many deal with, especially when you live in an area with extreme heat conditions.

Understanding the Summer Blues

The summer blues is a type of depression that typically begins and ends at the same time each year, in this case, during the summer months. Symptoms can include anxiety, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and an overall feeling of restlessness or agitation. While you may be able to treat more mild symptoms yourself, you should try to see a doctor or mental health professional if symptoms become more severe. In fact, a medical professional may diagnose you and treat you for summer SAD if you have symptoms of major depression, depressive episodes during the summer months that last for at least two years in a row, and if you tend to have depressive episodes more frequently during the summer than at any other time during the year.

Although there's still much to learn about summer SAD, similarly to many mental disorders, there is a multi-faceted answer as to what could be causing them to happen. Just as no two people are alike, the triggers and causes of this condition can vary significantly from person to person.

Biologically, some researchers believe that individuals with summer SAD may have a genetic predisposition to the disorder, much like other forms of depression, which could be related to an imbalance in serotonin, a key neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation. It's also possible that an individual's circadian rhythm or 'internal body clock' may be disturbed by the longer daylight hours of summer, leading to feelings of depression and anxiety.

Environmental factors undoubtedly play a role too. As previously discussed, the increased heat and humidity are significant environmental stressors that can contribute to the onset of summer SAD. For individuals sensitive to such changes, transitioning from milder spring temperatures to the intense summer heat can be particularly distressing.

Then there are psychological factors to consider. The pressures of maintaining a perceived level of 'summer happiness,' the disruption to usual routines, body image issues exacerbated by summer clothing, and increased social activities can all cause psychological distress. Furthermore, the stark contrast between societal expectations of summer being a 'happy time' and the individual's reality can also lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

In essence, summer SAD is likely triggered by a complex interplay of these biological, environmental, and psychological factors, underscoring the importance of a comprehensive, personalized approach in its management and treatment.

Overcoming the Summer Blues

When the heat index soars, it doesn't just mean sweltering weather — it can make the great outdoors seem unapproachable. Excessive heat can make people feel physically uncomfortable and lethargic and can lead to heat-related illnesses. The result? An increased likelihood of staying indoors leads to physical inactivity, social isolation, and an intensification of the symptoms of summer blues.

Luckily, overcoming the summer blues is not just a possibility but a tangible reality for many. With a combination of self-care practices, professional help if needed, and awareness of personal triggers, you can navigate through this challenging season. It's crucial to remember that help is always available, and no one needs to navigate these feelings alone. Here are a few ways to help with summer SAD:

  • Stay Cool: Make a conscious effort to keep your living space cool and well-ventilated. Use air conditioning, fans, or keep windows open in the cooler parts of the day. Wear light, breathable clothing, and stay hydrated.
  • Get Active Indoors: Staying active is crucial for mental well-being. If the heat index makes outdoor activities unbearable, look for indoor exercise options, including yoga, dancing, home workouts, or joining a local gym.
  • Maintain Social Connections: Even if outdoor gatherings are out of the question, staying connected with your social circle is essential. Arrange indoor get-togethers, have video calls, or even write letters.
  • Make Sleep a Priority: The long, sunny days can make it hard to sleep, and people experiencing summer SAD can develop insomnia or irregular sleep schedules. It's a good idea to prioritize restful sleep. 
  • Seek Professional Help: If your feelings of sadness, anxiety, or restlessness are causing significant distress or interfering with your daily life, it may be time to seek professional help. Therapists can provide strategies and treatments to help manage summer SAD.

Summer blues, especially in high heat index scenarios, are a significant but often overlooked issue. The discomfort and distress it brings can overshadow the picturesque representation of the season, often leaving those affected feeling out of sync with their surroundings. Remember, it's perfectly okay not to feel the exuberant summertime joy often portrayed in popular culture. It's not a reflection of personal failure or an inability to appreciate the good times but a genuine psychological experience that requires understanding and empathy.

If you're experiencing these feelings, know that you're not alone. It's vital to acknowledge your emotions, for in that acknowledgment lies the first step toward managing them effectively. Various strategies and tools are available to help manage and overcome the summer blues, from maintaining a relaxed and comfortable living environment to keeping up with indoor physical activities and staying socially connected, even when physical and outdoor interaction might be limited.

As we face increasingly hot summers due to climate change, it becomes even more essential to adapt our lifestyles and routines not just to survive but thrive in these conditions; it involves actively seeking new ways to maintain our mental and physical health and taking necessary measures to keep our living spaces cool and comfortable. Never hesitate to seek professional help if anxiety and depression persist or become overwhelming. Healthcare professionals can provide personalized strategies and treatment plans to navigate these difficult times.

In the end, remember that the strength to overcome the summer blues lies within you. With awareness, help, and resilience, you can navigate the complexities of this condition and emerge stronger and more equipped to face future challenges. Stay kind to yourself and take it one day at a time.