August 29, 2018
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Kristen Clark, M.D. contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health .
By Kristen Clark, M.D.
From days at the beach, to leisurely strolls, to picnics and BBQs with family and friends, it’s easy to see why summertime is prime time for fun in the sun. For many people though, that summer sunshine can bring darker skies ahead.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a subtype of depression. When people have SAD, they can feel like their typical selves during certain seasons of the year, and align with signs of depression in other seasons. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, an indicator of SAD is if this pattern of seasonal dips in mood and energy level are ongoing for at least two years. While it’s common for us to associate SAD with wintertime (ever heard of the winter blues?), for some, those symptoms of depression hit in the summertime.
If the below points seem all too familiar to you each summer, it may mean you’re suffering from SAD, and should consult with your doctor:
- You’ve Lost Interest in Activities You Used to Enjoy: Are activities you normally enjoy suddenly seeming dull? If you can’t seem to get yourself interested in playing that recreational sport you generally like, or in going out to your favorite dinner spot with friends, it could be worth taking note. Even more telling is if these previously-beloved activities now feel not only uninteresting – but outright burdensome.
- Your Sleep Habits Have Changed Drastically: Insomnia is very common with summertime SAD, due to the longer days and sunlight. Stop for a moment and consider how your sleep has been recently. Are you getting far more than normal, or – more likely – far less? Whether you’re getting too much or too little sleep, drastic changes in your sleeping habits seasonally could be a red flag that you have SAD. As you can imagine, this could be especially harmful if lack of a good night’s sleep begins to result in decreased performance, such as a lack of productivity at work or in school.
- You’re Having Difficulty Concentrating: In addition to not being able to sleep, many summertime SAD sufferers will note that they’re having trouble concentrating. Likewise, many also report that this lack of ability to concentrate leads to a difficulty in making decisions during their seasonal bout of depression. Some also find that it’s seemingly harder to remember things they usually would be able to recall quite simply. Again, a concerning result with this symptom of SAD is that it can affect your usual daily functioning in negative ways.
- You’ve Seemed to Have Lost Your Appetite: You cook up a special meal for yourself – one you typically love – and you’re still not able to muster up an appetite. In fact, even when you’re consuming certain foods you normally like, it might feel as though they now have little to no taste. Loss of appetite is yet another common sign of SAD, particularly with the summer depression subtype. This can lead to a decrease in weight, and even feelings of weakness and drowsiness as a result.
- Feelings of Anxiety Have Become the Norm: If this summer and in summers past you’re prone to anxiety and tightening feelings in your chest due to worry, this is also a sign that you could be battling SAD. While anxiety associated with certain situations is a normal human reaction – like when you’re about to give a big presentation at work or when you’re heading to a dreaded dentist appointment – all-consuming anxiety that is unrelated to any particular circumstance is quite different. If your anxiety is interfering with your day-to-day functions, it may mean a conversation with your doctor is warranted. Combined with the other signs mentioned here and when experienced seasonally, arrows may be pointing to SAD.
If the symptoms discussed above resonate closely with you each summer, it is important that you see a doctor. After ruling out any physical medical conditions, a doctor can help to understand whether you’re suffering from SAD through a clinical interview. If a patient is diagnosed with SAD, treatments are available, including medications (such as antidepressants) and psychotherapy. A doctor may also recommend other lifestyle changes for summertime SAD, such as keeping a consistent sleep pattern, incorporating aerobic exercise into one’s day, minimizing light exposure to no more than 13 hours per day, eliminating blue light exposure from electronics during the hours just before bedtime, and keeping cool with air conditioning — especially at night.
Dr. Kristen Clark is a psychiatrist and part of the Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group. She is also the Medical Director of Outpatient Behavioral Health at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.