4 ways to manage seasonal affective disorder

“Every man makes his own summer. The season has no character of its own, unless one is a farmer with a professional concern for the weather. Circumstances have not allowed me to make a good summer for myself this year…My summer has been overcast by my own heaviness of spirit. I have not had any adventures, and adventures are what make a summer.”

— Robertson Davies, “Three Worlds, Three Summers,” The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies. 

Lone tree in field. "Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder During the Summer."

An estimated one percent of the population experiences a form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the summertime. Though we typically associate this mental health problem with the dark, cold, and shorter days of the winter, some report that their anxiety and depression get worse in the summertime.  Even for those who do not formally experience SAD, the very things that are supposed to make summer fun and exciting can also be the cause for summertime anxiety and depression.

We all do it. We all scroll through Instagram and Facebook checking out the fun adventures that our friends, or more than likely our distanced acquaintances, are having, and we feel pressure to do the same.

Boating? Hiking? Traveling? Amusement Parks? Where do we start? How can we possibly fit this all into what feels like the shortest 12-15 weeks of the year? This pressure, mixed with the loneliness we experience when our friends are away on vacation, the stress that we endure because of the money we spend trying to achieve these summertime adventures, and the sadness we feel when there are perfectly good mountains we could be hiking or lakes we could be swimming while we are stuck working all contributes to a feeling of depression or anxiety despite the sun and the longer days.

Those who experience summertime SAD, or increased anxiety and depression in the summertime, tend to sleep and eat less than usual and tend to feel more agitated or irritable. This contrasts with the lethargy we often associate with depression. So, how can we make our summers more enjoyable?

1. Manage Your Sleep

According to Dr. Alfred Lewy from Oregon Health & Science University, some people’s circadian rhythms get disrupted by the summer sunshine. These circadian rhythms tell us when to feel sleepy and when to wake up, and Lewy asserts that those who experience depression related to delayed circadian rhythms can benefit from various measures: exposure to thirty minutes of sunshine in the morning, enforcing bedtimes and consistent wake-up times, and melatonin supplements.

2. Cold Therapy

According to Dr. Rosenthal, taking a cold shower, going for a dip in icy cold waters, or cranking the air conditioning can be beneficial for summer SAD sufferers. So, if you find yourself feeling guilty because you declined a pool party invitation or outdoor volleyball game, don’t. You are helping yourself. Unfortunately, researchers have not yet uncovered ways to prolong the mood-enhancing effects of these techniques, so figuring out ways to socialize in “cool situations” is your best bet.

3. Manage your Allergies

Researchers are not quite sure what causes summertime SAD, but one researcher has theorized that allergies might have an effect. In his research, Dr. Guzman found that people who reported bad moods during times of high allergen counts also tended to report more feelings of depression in warm weather. So, if you have seasonal allergies, stay on top of them as best as you can. Take daily meds as prescribed or meet with a doctor if over the counter pills aren’t doing the trick. (Goldman, 2014; Moss, 2015).

4. Self-Care

Mental health is no joke. Being aware that you are suffering is the first part of the battle. Expectations that summer will be fun and exciting and adventurous can lead us to think that our feelings of sadness or anxiety are nothing. Maybe they’re just a result of FOMO.

Remember, these feelings are real. If you find your appetite diminishing, as many summertime SAD sufferers report, plan and maintain a meal schedule. If you find yourself getting irritable or agitated, prioritize the things that you enjoy and the people that you love. Do not isolate yourself. Stay in contact with your friends and family. You don’t have to hit the sand and attend every potluck you’re invited to but stay in touch. If you know that scrolling through social media leaves you in a funk, set limits on your usage or even block the sites entirely. Delete the apps from your phone.

If you or someone you know experiences summertime SAD or anxiety and depression, seek extra support and guidance to make the most of your summer. The Center for Family and Couples Therapy provides services to families, couples, individuals, adolescents, and children throughout Northern Colorado. CFCT offers discounted rates to CSU faculty, staff, and students. Please call 970-491-5991 to schedule an appointment.

By Gabi Fihn

Gabi is a second-year graduate student in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with dual Bachelor of Science degrees in psychology and human development and family studies.  Originally from Winona, MN, Gabi has loved exploring the beauty and adventures that Colorado offers. She also enjoys yoga, kickboxing, singing, and more than anything, traveling. Gabi is passionate about helping others build and maintain strong, healthy bonds with those they cherish. 

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