The warm, sun-soaked days of summer are upon on us… so why are you feeling blue? If this describes you, you’re not alone. It turns out that seasonal depression — AKA seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — doesn’t just hit in the cold, dark winter months. For many people in Canada, seasonal depression still finds a way to creep up during the summer. And, the fact that seasonal depression in summer is less common and much less understood can leave many people feeling confused and frustrated.
With this in mind, we spoke with Aziza Kajan, MSW, RSW, Graduate Student Counsellor at York University, for further insight and some ideas for the best ways to fight seasonal depression — in the summer, or any time of year.
DISCLOSURE: This advice is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare practitioner. Always seek medical advice that is specific to you and your situation.
What is SAD (seasonal affective disorder)?
SAD is best described as seasonal depression that is triggered by a change in seasons. How common is seasonal depression in Canada? According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, two to three per cent of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime — and another 15 per cent will experience a milder form that affects mood and focus.
“We are fortunate to experience four seasons in Canada, but that being said, our weather turns out some pretty stark seasonal differences, which can be incredibly challenging on some people,” says Kajan.
Kajan explains that while people typically experience remission in SAD symptoms once spring and summer weather hits, there are a number of reasons why people remain affected during the warmer months. During the summer “vacation months,” social, financial or body image issues may become more prominent, for example, leaving some unable to participate in usual summer activities.
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Understanding SAD triggers and symptoms
Research reports that the most common trigger of SAD is a lack of sunlight and the effect it can have on our sleep cycles. What is noteworthy, however, is that some people experience the opposite pattern — whereby the symptoms of depression begin in spring or summer. The symptoms can be mild and then progress and become more severe.
“Interestingly, women appear to be more affected than men, as well as young people compared to older individuals,” says Kajan. “Generally speaking though, women tend to be diagnosed with depression more often than men. There are various elements that factor into this difference, ranging from hormones, social factors, pregnancy, healthcare bias and more.”
Because seasonal depression triggers can vary between the summer and winter, it can be useful to know what signs to watch out for. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), typical symptoms of summer depression include:
• Sad and low mood
• Feeling anxious and/or agitated
• Reduced appetite and/or weight loss
• Difficulty sleeping and insomnia
How can you cope with SAD?
“First and foremost, don’t self diagnose,” says Kajan. “It’s important to seek professional help when changes in mood occur.” Ultimately, try to not let yourself suffer just because it’s something that happens every year and may feel like your “normal” experience. There are multiple things you can do to help ease symptoms and maintain your quality of life. Below, we’ve rounded up 10 tips for how to cope with seasonal depression in the summer:
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Tip 1: Identify your summer triggers
Pinpointing what triggers your summertime blues can help you zero in on the best coping strategies for you.
“Some people may be triggered by heat and humidity, financial stresses related to a need for more childcare or vacations and body-image issues made worse by wearing warm-weather clothing that shows more skin,” explains Kajan. Identifying your triggers first will provide you with areas to focus on when working to boost your mood.
Tip 2: Get outside
“I encourage people to do the activities that they aren’t usually able to during cold, winter months when SAD is more common, such as going outside and being active,” says Kajan. Engaging in regular exercise and finding fun and meaningful activities to do may help boost your mood.
Tip 3: Create a routine
Even if you feel you don’t need one, a routine will help your stick to your goals, whether it be seeing friends more often, taking a workout class or just taking some time for yourself.
“It’s important to find things that make you happy and work for you,” explains Kajan, “and creating a routine will help to avoid falling into a slump.”
Tip 4: Be kind to yourself
“Although summertime SAD is less common, remember there is nothing wrong with you,” shares Kajan, “and you’re not alone in experiencing this.”
Try daily journaling as a way to share negative thoughts in a safe space, and follow up by reflecting on the things you’re grateful for.
Tip 5: Stay hydrated
Take extra care to keep hydrated in hot and humid weather to maintain your health and energy. Proper hydration not only quenches your thirst but allows the body to flush toxins, maintain system equilibrium (balance), support brain function, hormone balance and more. Try infusing your water with seasonal berries or cool cucumber to switch things up, and snacking on hydrating fruits and vegetables such as watermelon and peppers.
Tip 6: Make sleep a priority
People with summertime depression can develop insomnia or irregular sleep schedules, which can be harmful to your mental well-being and create stress. A sleep app or bedtime yoga will relax you and may help you regulate your sleep to improve your mood.
Tip 7: Take a social media break
Although social media can be a great tool to connect people, it’s also a main instigator of FOMO, and bring down your mental health. Overexposure to social media has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety and depression — and this could also be a possible catalyst to bringing on those summer blues.
“Some people might not have a large group of friends or meaningful social connections, a limiting health condition or limited finances that just make it hard to participate in the usual summer activities,” explains Kajan. Focus on being present and in the moment, whether you’re hanging out with friends or enjoying some time alone.
Tip 8: Try light therapy
If you’re finding it hard to get outside for your daily dose of vitamin D, light therapy lamps an an affordable and easy to find technology that may help ease symptoms of SAD.
“It’s important that you use the lamp properly for it to effectively work,” explains Kajan, The recommended daily treatment is 15 to 30 minutes in front of the device.”
Tip 9: Focus on body positivity
“For someone struggling with body image, summer can be challenging, because it’s when most people tend to wear less clothing and do more things outside,” says Kajan.
If showing your body or being around people feels anxiety provoking, remind yourself that when you’re out in public, you’re not in the spotlight and everyone is likely more focused on themselves than on you. Introducing positive body affirmations each morning or using an app that promotes body positivity can help quiet these feelings of self-doubt.
Tip 10: Seek professional advice
As always, speak with a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing feelings of depression or changes to your mental health. If you’re noticing patterned changes in your mood, talk to your doctor.
“Your doctor may do a formal assessment using a depression rating scale, or recommend third party resources such as cognitive behavioural therapy,” says Kajan.