How could anyone possibly be sad in the summer? The sun is working overtime, happy hour starts even earlier, and walking around outside no longer requires several layers and a ski mask.
However, some people think summer (with its endless beach pics of tanned thighs that resemble hotdogs) is the worst season of all. Seasonal Affective Disorder—aptly referred to as SAD—is depression that follows a seasonal pattern for at least two years. By most estimates, between 5 and 10 percent of the US population experiences SAD.
While SAD usually occurs in the winter as the days get shorter and colder, people can also experience SAD in reverse (cue “Summertime Sadness”). It’s unusual though—only 10 percent of people with SAD experience summer depression, also known as "reverse seasonal affective disorder."
Overwhelmingly hot weather and FOMO can all make dealing with depression in the summer months even tougher. The fact that seemingly everyone you know is frosé-sipping by the pool or at an outdoor brunch spot can feel especially triggering when it's been a few days since you left your house.
We asked a few people to share how they’ve learned to cope with summertime sadness.
Daniel Elder, 35, Portland, OR
As soon as the weather takes a turn for the "nice," I feel like an oppressive black cloud is following me around. Heat, sun, perhaps pollen, and the general merriment of the larger summertime population all really grind me down. It's only in summer that I understand what's meant by depression, by people who suffer from it chronically. It feels like there's no way out of it but to wait it out.
Beyond the biological/chemical response my brain and body have to the season, the biggest thing that impacts me is other people. It's life outside, it's the joyousness of the people in the park and the people walking down the street in smiles and sunglasses. The sun is a tyrant. It's a big flaming ball of “should.” You should be outside. You should be having fun. You should feel a certain way. This only compounds everything I'm struggling through because it makes me feel as if I am wrong to feel that way.
The most important thing I've learned is to honor how I feel and what I want to do. My house has a finished basement, and I have my stereo system down there, a screen for watching movies, and my writing desk. I often feel like a curmudgeonly troll slinking down there on the weekends while it's 85 degrees outside and my housemates and friends are out gardening, bicycling, swimming, and hiking. But I know that if I push myself to do those things, I will be grinding through misery, grinning and bearing it. That's the biggest piece of advice I can offer to anyone else that struggles with summer depression: Just say no. You don't have to participate in it. Let go of your FOMO, hide, and take care of yourself.
Courtney Deadman, 23, San Antonio, TX
Summer is typically the time of year I have the least to do. It’s also when loved ones are out of town and I spend a lot of time by myself. Although I have depression year round, it tends to worsen from June to the middle of August. I feel tired and unmotivated like I’m waiting for something to appear to occupy my time, rather than looking for things to do.
Luckily, I’ve found out how to make structure for myself—I try to exercise and go outside every day. I’ve started to cook every day because it’s time consuming and somewhat creative. I also love movies and take time to enjoy them since I don’t get a ton of chances to during the school year.
This summer, specifically, I’ve been trying to concentrate on staying in touch with people who I consider my friends, but am not that close to, and it’s been fulfilling for me. This summer I’ve also offered right and left to walk people’s dogs—it gets me outside and puppies are a cure for basically everything and that’s been really awesome too!
Aaron Smith, 21, Los Angeles, CA
I live in California and go to school in NY; it’s the worst of both worlds. California is dry as a desert [in the summer] and NY is as humid as a swamp. I can’t deal. At least with the cold you can put on as many layers as you want. You can only get so naked before someone gets mad.
Aside from the heat, summer is an especially low season for me because I feel like I don’t really get a chance to connect with people. During the fall season, I’m back in school and I get to hang out with old friends and meet new classmates. In the summer, there’s a divide between me and my friends at school. It’s not only my friends in New York, but I’ve started to feel like there’s a divide between me and my friends at home too—they’ve either become busy with their new friends or aren’t here in the first place.
The way I’ve learned to get through my summer depression is to realize that as long as you have yourself, you have the strength to enjoy life. During the summer, you should focus on bettering yourself because no one else is gonna do it for you. That way later, you have the strength to help those around you.
Monica Trigoso, 21, San Antonio, TX
If I don’t manage my seasonal affective disorder, my depression will carry on into summer. In that case, I take vitamin D supplements throughout all of summer and try to spend more time outside, away from technology like computer screens, phone screens, and TV.
The second big thing for me, aside from taking vitamin D—and one thing I think a lot of people don't talk about often—is setting up and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. At the very least I'll try for eight hours a night, so I'll set a couple alarms on my phone for when I should start getting ready for bed because I'm forgetful. It has to be set for a decent hour otherwise I'm just not getting good, deep rest.
Besides that, coming out of a depressive episode is a lot of retraining myself to carry out routines and self-care regimens like brushing my teeth and washing my face every night before bed or doing my laundry once a week instead of every two. It's a slow progression back into healthy functioning.
Also I find it's much easier to combat being slowed down by depression if you already have established structure and an organized routine because the discipline is already present. So when you're lacking motivation—a symptom of depression I struggle with a lot—you have your disciplinary behaviors to fall back on.
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