Chances are good that you’ve heard the term “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)” before. And you probably even know someone—perhaps a family member, friend or colleague—whose quality of life suffers as a result of this condition during the winter months. This happens because their pineal gland produces less serotonin (a “happy hormone”) during shorter days with less daylight, causing depression and listlessness.
But did you know that SAD has a summer equivalent as well? Studies performed on subjects who live in countries close to the equator have found that people do indeed suffer from SAD in the summer months, even without the more extreme seasonal changes in daylight hours that come with living closer to the poles. Although “Summer SAD” is thought to affect only 1% of the population, it is nevertheless a very real health phenomenon. For some people, the seasonal change to summer can cause depression, agitation and irritability. Why? The reasons are many and mixed.
High Temperatures and High Humidity
Increased heat and humidity can make it more difficult to sleep and to be active. Even chores like shopping and cooking can become more difficult. Ongoing discomfort and loss of appetite make it harder to enjoy life.
Changes in Routine
We are also very much creatures of habit, and changes to our daily routines and circadian rhythms (which are responsible for the sleep-wake cycle, among other functions) can upset our balance. During the summer months, kids are home from school. This means that households often go to sleep and wake up at different times and must adapt to new schedules. In the midst of all that, many families also choose to take their annual vacation during these months, which further complicates life—especially if there’s travel involved. Your habits of sleep, work and meals can change radically in the summer months.
Fewer Clothes to Hide Behind
Then there’s the issue of body image. During the cooler months, those of us who do not still maintain the body of an active 20-year-old can cover up our various bumps and bulges in loose sweaters. Not so in the summer! Even a modest bathing suit at the beach reveals more than many of us would like. And many people starve themselves in an effort to get their “bikini body” back for their two-week holiday at the beach, adding to the summer stress their bodies must endure.
The Summertime Financial Crunch
Finally, the financial strain that a summer vacation puts on the budget can also take its toll for many families. In addition, many working parents have to pay for childcare in the summer, or have to fork out a significant sum for camp, so summer is not always the best time for a family financially. This only increases the stress and rates of summer depression. And for families who can’t afford either childcare option, three solid months of having the kids at home all day can drive even the most patient parent up a wall.
What to Do?
To combat summer depression, there are a number of things you can do. First, be sure you give yourself sufficient sleep and exercise. It’s tempting to stay up later than usual in the summer months, but remember that eight hours of sleep a night are necessary for most people to function at their best. If it’s too hot to exercise, try exercising late at night or early in the morning before things heat up. You can also join an air-conditioned gym for a couple of months until things cool down.
Eat a sensible, balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables, which help to keep you hydrated while providing important nutrients. Don’t try to lose a bunch of weight all at once. Planning ahead is your best option, since you can put away a little extra money every month toward your summer holiday AND also gradually lose any excess weight before beach season without putting unnecessary stress on your body. Finally, have some fun! Call a friend to come over and join you to share a movie in your air-conditioned house or go out for exotic cocktails with your partner. The good news is that summer depression can be prevented or managed with a just little advance planning.
Those who suffer from summer SAD often find that the symptoms disappear with the return of fall and a more “normal” lifestyle rhythm. However, if you find that your depression continues well after the season begins to turn, it may be a good idea to consult your doctor. As chiropractic physicians, we work closely with our patients to develop and maintain healthy lifestyle habits year-round. This is the key to preventing many common illnesses and enjoying a higher quality of life at the same time. If you have questions about your own health and wellness, please call our office. We’ll be happy to help!