Summer weather has arrived and people are out and about. Short sleeves, dresses, patios, and weekend trips signal what seemingly should be a joyful, laidback time in your life - and yet, you're not smiling. Perhaps you're not feeling the excitement and enthusiasm that you witness amongst your peers, so what's wrong with you?
Nothing is wrong with you. There are a few factors that could contribute to the onset or exacerbation of depression symptoms in summer months.
Factors that Contribute to Summertime Depression
You could be experiencing summertime seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Most people are familiar with SAD that's onset by winter months, which affects approximately 4-6% of the population in the U.S. The lesser known, summertime SAD, which is onset by summer months [particularly amongst those living in warmer climates] affects approximately 10% of the SAD population (Griffin, 2021).
2. Disrupted schedules
The kids are off school and perhaps you're more strained with family commitments. Even positive, 'fun' commitments can diminish our energy. If a disrupted or busy schedule means that each weekend you're packing up the car, sitting in traffic to get to your destination, then returning home a couple days later to unpack, catch up on house chores and work obligations, then that's a lot on your plate.A disrupted schedule can also mean less frequent or irregular exercise and poorer eating and sleep habits. When was the last time you checked in with your emotional vulnerability factors?
- Treat physical illness
- Balance eating
- Avoid mood-altering substances
- Balance sleep
- Get exercise
- Manage stressors
3. Fear of missing out (FOMO)
The polarization of a jam-packed schedule is one that's emptier than one would like. We're prone to the fear of missing out (FOMO) when our reality is incongruent with our ideal as it relates to socialization. Perhaps you're looking at people around you seemingly having a great time with friends and family, and you either don't have close connections nearby or you're missing them altogether. FOMO is an experience that creates anxiety and loneliness.
4. Body image issues
Summer heat for many means less clothing. Summer is a time when people frequent the beach or cottage in swimwear or simply wearing clothing with less coverage in efforts to keep cool. People who struggle with body image may feel particularly vulnerable and exposed to social comparison during these times.
5. Financial strain
Summer commitments, holidays, and socialization could be tied to increased spending habits and financial strain. It's easy to slip into the trap of 'treating ourselves' more often when we see others going out and having fun. A component of self-care is financial health and having boundaries with your spending. Even when being financially responsible, financial strain may be more evident around holiday seasons.
6. Unexpected or unwanted life transitions
Major life events, particularly painful ones, such as the loss of a loved one, job loss, heart break, and moving may bring feelings of sadness, grief, anger, and otherwise emotions that are incongruent with the ideal. Read our blog on grief and life transitions to learn more about what you can do.
Some people love the heat, and others would rather live without it. Heat can fuel frustration and exacerbate stress. In fact, studies show that warmer climates are associated with higher incidents of aggression (Baer, 2016; Burke, Hsiang, & Miguel, 2013).
8 Tips for Dealing with Summertime Depression
1. Speak with a mental health professional.
Depression in summer months can be particularly isolating and lonely. It can be difficult to explain to others why your mood and energy is low when the sun is shining and birds are chirping. A mental health professional is someone who understands the nature of depression and has coping tools to collaborate on how you are going to take care of yourself during hard times. Whether you're looking for more action-oriented strategies or you need a space to be able to talk about what's going on, a mental health professional can help you feel less alone.
2. Plan ahead.
If this isn't your first rodeo with summertime sadness, then perhaps you already have an idea of the behaviours and habits to be mindful of. Cope ahead plans are ways of being prepared to buffer against stress and depression. Your cope ahead plan could include:
- Naming support people and letting them know you're going through a hard time or that you might need some extra check ins.
- Connecting with a therapist.
- Creating a budget.
- Practicing self-care through routine, kind self-talk, and goal setting.
- Developing a safety plan for dealing with crisis or high intensity emotions.
3. Take your sleep seriously.
Stress management, practicing good sleep hygiene, addressing medical concerns that disrupt sleep, and being somewhat disciplined with your sleep-wake times can help you get better quality sleep. People with depression or low mood often have depleted energy levels, which can lead to oversleeping. While it's natural to believe that you need more sleep given low energy, generally the standard 7-8 hours is enough (CDC, 2022). It's possible that focusing on implementing more structure and action in your day will improve sleep and restore energy levels.
Setting up your environment for better sleep means limits around screen-time and afternoon caffeine intake, avoiding or reducing alcohol and stimulants close to bedtime, dimming household lighting, and creating bedtime rituals.
4. Be consistent with movement and exercise.
It's tough to be consistent when schedules are disrupted. If you can't be as consistent as you're used to, try making more attainable goals for movement. For example, could you carve out time for a five-minute walk around your block or two minutes of stretching on your yoga mat? Some form of movement is typically better than nothing.
5. Mindful eating.
Who hasn't reached for the easier [albeit, less healthy] meal option when you're tired or pressed for time? We're human; sometimes our eating falls down the priority ladder.
Meal prepping or buying meal kits/protein-fuelled snacks is a way to minimize the burden of having to maintain healthy eating. If you've noticed a dip in your energy levels or alertness, it's possible nutrition is part of the problem. Consult with your doctor or a registered dietician to learn more about your body's relationship with food.
As discussed in our blog, emotional and physical boundaries are excellent ways to create a sense of security and safety when we feel overwhelmed. A brief check in with your boundaries can shed light on the areas you're over-extending yourself.
For example, is your energy and mood drained after spending time on social media? Do you feel more alone when comparing yourself to others? Are you actually getting your cup filled by going out with friends each weekend? Working with a therapist can help you build scripts and tools for boundary setting.
7. Consult with your doctor about medication.
Registered Psychotherapists and Registered Social Workers are not medical doctors. Therefore, you will need to speak with your doctor or a psychiatrist about options for medication if you believe it is what's best for you.
Self-compassion is responding to your pain with kindness and non-judgment. That means acknowledging and allowing your feelings, "I feel sad. This is sadness. What do I need right now?" as opposed to "I'm sad and I shouldn't feel sad because the sun is shining. What's wrong with me?"
Dr. Kristin Neff, the leading researcher on self-compassion, promotes the fact that self-compassion leads to better mental health. Her website is an excellent resource for learning about the benefits of self-compassion and experimenting with her self-help exercises.
Self-compassion is not passivity, giving up on your goals, or letting yourself off the hook. It's simply taking a kinder, non-judgmental tone with yourself, being curious enough to ask what you need and giving it to yourself, so that you can keep moving towards your goals. Hurt people need kindness and patience when they are down - not judgment.
No one likes feeling lonely. If you're having a harder time this season, go forward gently. Summer will come again.
Everything can - and will - change.
Disclaimer: This blog is for general information purposes only and does not constitute the practice of professional healthcare services, including the giving of medical advice. The use of information on this blog or materials linked from this blog is at the users' own risk. The content of this blog is not intended to substitute for psychotherapy or professional medical advice or treatment. Users should not delay from seeking medical advice for any medical condition they may have and should seek the assistance of a healthcare professional for any such conditions.
- Baer, D. (2016). Do hot climates make people more violent? CNN Health. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2016/07/07/health/climate-violence/index.html
- Burke, M., Hsiang, S., & Miguel, E. (2013). Weather and violence. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/01/opinion/sunday/weather-and-violence.html
- Griffin, M. R. (2021). Tips for summer depression. Depression Guide WebMD. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/depression/summer-depression
- How much sleep do I need? (2022, September 14). Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html