Blue skies, warm nights, and days full of fun and frolic – for so many of us, the summer represents the time of year when we feel happier, freer, and more easy-going. We often believe it’s also a time when feelings of sadness we associate with winter take a vacation, and mental health concerns like SAD (or Seasonal Affective Disorder) aren’t nearly as top-of-mind.
For others, however, SAD isn’t a condition brought on by the cold and dark winter months; people can actually struggle with Summer SAD because of several warm-weather factors including changes in one’s circadian rhythm and fluctuations in melatonin production.
And unlike the more common winter-based SAD where we may struggle with low energy, increased irritability, and food cravings, Summer SAD can present an entirely different set of symptoms including avoidance of social situations, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping.
Add to that the summertime worries many people have around body image, unpredictable schedules, oppressive heat and humidity, and the financial costs that come with social activities, and you can understand why Summer SAD can be so difficult for some.
But through self-awareness and planning, there are many ways to help deal with Summer SAD. Here are several tips to better cope with those long days of summer.
Exercise Is Your Friend
Regular exercise can help alleviate SAD-related symptoms. In the hot summer months, strenuous activity may be difficult, but there are plenty of other ways to continue exercising safely. Try joining a gym with air conditioning, swimming outdoors, or engaging in activities early in the morning or in the evening when the sun isn’t at its hottest.
Don’t Worry About Other People’s Expectations
Summer can be a busy time, with plenty of invitations to outings, picnics, parties, and more. If you’re struggling with Summer SAD, however, these social activities may start to feel overwhelming. It’s important to remember that you’re not obligated to attend everything, and that it’s definitely okay to schedule in some much-needed Me Time instead.
Keep Your Sleep Regular
The summer days are long. This may spell out difficulty for your sleep patterns, but with some planning you can ensure that your snooze time isn’t deeply affected. You may want to consider hanging black curtains to block out the light, brewing herbal tea with relaxing properties such as chamomile, avoiding overstimulation before bed, and keeping your bedroom temperature cool and comfortable.
Limit Your Social Media Time
Facebook and Instagram often feature staged and heavily curated images that don’t reflect reality. Ask yourself whether or not they are accurate and truthful portrayals of someone's lifestyle, and try to seriously limit time on social media rather than wish your life looked just as perfect – wouldn't you rather just focus on enjoying being in the moment instead of staging a shot to let other people know what you've been doing?
Seek Out Professional Support
Everyone can have an off-day – even when the summer sun is shining. But if your symptoms persist and interfere with your quality of life, it may be time to work with a registered mental health professional to explore options for improving your mental well-being. You can also look into the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a clinically-proven, evidence-based approach, that helps us understand and manage the relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
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Experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder in the summer can be difficult and frustrating, especially when the expectations to socialize and soak up the sun are constant. With some self-awareness, planning, and self-care, you can work to reduce your symptoms, and find a healthy balance between making the most of the summer months and taking care of yourself.