For many of us, summer is all about sunshine, beaches, and backyard barbecues—but for those with seasonal affective disorder (a cyclical depression typically associated with winter), it’s a season of sleep deprivation, perpetual crankiness, and a general hatred of the universe.
Roughly 5 percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and 1 in 10 cases strike during the summer, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. While everyone else is splashing around in the water and enjoying a cocktail in their (sweaty) lounge chairs, reverse SAD sufferers, bogged down by everything from humidity to longer days, are patiently waiting for the so-called “fun in the sun” to be over. What can make experiencing summer SAD worse is that people suffering from it know they're supposed to be having a great time, so struggling with these symptoms can be amplified by a feeling of isolation.
Since summer SAD symptoms can easily be mistaken as straight-up stress, here are six signs you might have the summer blues—and tips on how to deal.
The sun makes you feel blasé
When people think of SAD, they immediately think of dark, cold winters putting a damper on their mood. In the case of summertime SAD, the reverse is true, says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a licensed clinical neuropsychologist in New York. Too much sunlight can reduce melatonin production in the body—a hormone which plays a role in mood regulation—and may trigger an uptick in depression and other mood disorders.
The Fix: If you find that your reaction to sunlight is less moth-to-a-flame and more vampire, things like wearing dark sunglasses, keeping your shades down, and running errands when it’s overcast may be of benefit, suggests Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and author of Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life Through Transcendental Meditation.
You’re beyond sleep-deprived
As if getting quality sleep isn’t enough of a challenge, out-of-whack melatonin levels during the summer can mess with your slumber even more. “While wintertime SAD can make people feel sluggish, people with summertime SAD can feel an energy surge at bedtime,” says Hafeez. The neverending daylight disrupts and delays your body’s usual sleep-wake cycle, morphing you into a summertime Scrooge.
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The Fix: Just because it’s not dark outside doesn’t mean you can’t trick your body into thinking otherwise, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Starting two hours before bedtime, limit your exposure to sunlight by drawing the shades, dimming the lights, and establishing an evening routine to help you unwind and score the quality shuteye you deserve.
The heat makes you cranky
“It certainly seems as though the heat of summer—along with the humidity, which make the days feel even hotter—is a major factor for many people with summertime SAD,” says Rosenthal. You may feel revved up, agitated, antsy, even manic because of how stifling and uncomfortable heat waves can be. (Here's how to keep your home cool without AC.)
The Fix: Try and stay cool as often as possible by chilling (literally) in air-conditioned places or taking cold showers, says Rosenthal. And when you’re in situations where that’s not possible (say, at a friend’s backyard barbecue where you feel like you’re the one on the grill), learn centering techniques to help calm you when a surge of anger strikes, says Hafeez. (Here are 5 meditations you can do right now.) For example, take five deep breaths, counting to three as you inhale and exhale. Repeat as necessary.
You’re on anxiety overload
There are plenty of things about the summer that can send an SAD sufferer into an anxiety spiral—namely, anticipating the hot weather, sticky bodies, screaming kids, floods of tourists, and endless invitations to summer-y events. (Endless.) Plus, it’s super-isolating to feel like you’re the only person on earth who’s excited for summer… to be over.
The Fix: Planning is paramount to keeping your anxiety in check, says Hafeez. For example, creating a schedule that puts you in air-conditioned quarters as often as possible at work and at home, and focusing on social events that take place at night when it’s cooler (or wherever fans are involved).
You never feel hungry
Being perpetually agitated or anxious often leads to appetite loss, says Hafeez. The chronic stress (of hating summer) activates your body’s fight-or-flight response, and the uptick in stress hormones can mess with your digestive system, ultimately decreasing your sense of hunger.
The Fix: You may not feel hungry, but your body still needs nutrients. “Be sure to have healthy snacks on hand so you can nibble throughout the day, as opposed to holding out for bigger meals,” says Hafeez. And if you want to keep your body satisfied and stave off overheating, consider chugging ice-cold, nutrient-dense smoothies when the going gets tough. Here's more on how to fight depression with your diet.
You’re relieved when summer’s over
“Symptoms typically subside as the weather becomes cooler and the days become shorter in autumn and winter,” says Rosenthal. The best way to know if you have summertime SAD is to look back over your past and ask yourself: “How do I typically feel when daylight savings time starts? When it’s time to get out my summer wardrobe or buy summer clothes? When I have to start planning for summer vacation?” If you only remember being filled with a sense of dread, and it seems to strike every summer, then reverse SAD may be the culprit.
The Fix: If, even after taking the above tips for a spin, summer still makes you want to vomit, consider a daily reflection or brainstorming writing activity to help with self-awareness, or discussing your feelings with a mental health professional. They can teach you handy techniques, such as cognitive behavior therapy (identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones), and behavior activation (identifying seasonal activities that are legit enjoyable to you, and focusing on those) to better cope with summer, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Plus, here are 4 simple steps to breaking your bad habits just by thinking about them differently. Remember: You got this.
This article first appeared on Rodale's Organic Life