This Texas summer seems unending and relentless. Cooler mornings are but a trick the weather is playing on us. The excessive heat warnings showing up on our phones is one thing, but now Texas has upped the ante with everyone’s favorite text message: “ERCOT is asking for conservation. Please safely conserve energy from 5-9pm today. Details @ercot.com/txans” Maybe you feel like you have been handling things pretty okay, but it’s the beginning of September and there is no relief in sight. The overwhelm that is adding up is a very real thing… We’re talking Seasonal Affective Disorder, y’all.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, a.k.a. SAD, is a type of depression that is related to the changing of seasons. About 10 million Americans experience SAD and it is more prevalent in people assigned female at birth. Symptoms include listlessness, feeling sad or down, loss of interest, sleep issues, difficulty with concentration, hopelessness, thoughts of not wanting to live, low energy, and irritability. With symptoms lasting up to 40% of the year, SAD is no laughing matter.
People often have the misconception that people only suffer from SAD during the winter months, when the days are shorter and sunlight is scarce. A common treatment is light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a light therapy box for 20 minutes a day. In the summertime, though, the days are longer and there is an abundance of sunlight. In the summer people are seeking out shade, not sun.
Summertime, summertime SADness, while less prevalent, is just as impactful. Lana Del Rey knows what's up. Summertime SAD is often characterized by loss of appetite, trouble sleep, poor appetite, weight loss, irritability, and anxiety. Being cooped up inside avoiding the heat can be just as harrowing as being cooped up inside avoiding the cold. With record temperatures this summer, the increase in irritability levels also has an excessive heat warning. Bonus, being hot literally makes us angry.
When it is hot, hot, hot we get hot, hot, hot, and bothered in the worst way possible. As the temperature rises so does the levels of aggression, irritability, and feeling all around fussy. High temperatures have been linked to reduced attraction towards others as well, especially if you add in crowded spaces, leading to less helpfulness, kindness and patience. It is easy to get caught in a vicious cycle of “I'm angry” and then being unkind to someone...who is then angry about you being unkind and unkind in turn...making you even more angry and unkind… you get the point. Air conditioning can only go so far in mending strained relationships.
You may find yourself thinking, "Yeah, summertime, summertime SADness is the worst and you are the worst for pointing it out." Firstly, don't kill the messenger. Secondly, let's do something about it.
7 Tips to Cope with Summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder
I enlisted my fellow clinicians at Bright Light Counseling Center to share some of their ideas to lessen the grim symptoms of SAD.
1. Get Up and Get Outside Before the Heat Sets In
One symptom of summertime SAD is low mood and irritability. One way to help regulate mood is through movement. Abia shares to make it a point to get out early in the morning for 10-15 minutes and get in some movement. She suggests finding a pool or body of water. If water is not your thing, she recommends exercising indoors at a gym or your apartment complex gym. Whatever you do, stay hydrated, add electrolytes, get some movement in, and enlist support from friends and family.
2. Mindfully Eating
As I said before, if you are experiencing SAD, you may be noticing low mood and irritability. Adam shares that another way to help regulate mood is through mindfulness. Eating a nice meal, mindfully, would be one for me. One idea would be to make a refreshing lemonade or fruit smoothie, for summer days, and practice savoring the experience. Using all of your senses while drinking your lemonade or smoothie. Something I personally would do is make an iced tea, the night before, and then sit outside, in the shade, the next morning, and read. While this is not technically being mindful as I am enjoying my iced tea, the cool shady weather, and reading, I am taking intentional time to do something that brings me joy.
3. Quality Sleep
One symptom of summertime SAD is sleep difficulties. Dr. Beth shares that one of the biggest disruptors of getting enough sleep and restful sleep is mindlessly scrolling your phone. I know it is so easy to do! Day after day, not much going on, it is easy to pick up your phone and flick through and then find yourself 3 hours later all consumed by social media. You probably missed your night time routine and bedtime. My biggest recommendation to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep is to get off your phone at least 30 minutes before you get into bed (and not pick it up again!) and begin to wind down for sleep. Read a book (Kindle Paperwhite is ok - Kindle Fire - not so much), journal, doodle, engage in a deep breathing routine, listen to nature sounds.... your choice! Pick something to start slowing down and winding down from your day and prepare yourself for sleep.
4. Spending Time Outside of the House, But Still in the A/C
Being hot - may mean - feelings of anxiousness and irritability, which is a common symptom of summertime SAD. Staying cooped up in your house may compound those feelings. Dawson exclaims, Go walking at the mall! It has been a great way for me, my wife, and our son to get out of the house but still enjoy A/C during these summer months. Rarely do we ever buy anything, but it's nice to just get out and get some steps in. I encourage people to reach out to a friend to go walking at the mall as this helps with motivation and accountability.
5. Joyful Movement
As a symptom of summertime SAD is agitation, irritability, and anxiety, Rian shares that a good way to combat SADness, when inside, is to move your body. It is true that exercising releases endorphins, or if anything, tires us out to have a good night of sleep. So finding something fun on YouTube and moving your body is a good way to start. Whether it's 15 minutes of Pilates, yoga, meditation, or a dance party, moving our bodies in any way will help lessen the summer blues.
Self-soothing/nesting can help settle our irritation. Put on the most comfortable, least constrictive clothing (unless constriction feels comforting), make sure room temperature feels good (check thermostat, turn on fan), engage in low-stakes, low-stress, and familiar activities (like watching favorite show, reading favorite book, no surprises), create a comforting atmosphere with soothing/enjoyable sensory experiences (scented candles, soothing music, dim the lights or open the shades to let natural light in).
7. Do Nothing. On Purpose.
Something I frequently share with clients is the idea of doing nothing on purpose. It is easy to get wrecked with guilt when you spend the night doing “nothing,” like watching bad movies. Your brain starts judging you about what you should be doing or how you should be productive. It makes a long to-do list that has been untouched. However, if part of the to-do list is doing nothing, actively giving yourself permission to watch bad movies all night helps with any guilt about “wasting” the evening. Choosing to do tasks, even when the task is doing nothing, can help your brain give you a break.
Summertime SAD is often characterized by loss of appetite, trouble sleep, poor appetite, weight loss, irritability, and anxiety.
Although the first day of fall is technically September 23rd and Dunkin Donuts has already rolled out their line of pumpkin spice goodies, summer isn’t just a date on a calendar. SAD does not care about the dates on the calendar or your access to pumpkin spice…anything. SAD symptoms can last up to 40% of the year.
As you try out some of the skills my fellow therapists suggest, I want to remind you that SAD doesn’t go away overnight and trying to do a bunch of new things right away isn’t realistic. There may still be times when you want to sit in a tree and scream all day like the cicadas. Right now is a time to be gentle with yourself. Do what your body can do, move, eat on a given day. I encourage you to hold on to self-kindness. It’s about doing what you can when you can.
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