Summertime Sadness: Is It Real, and How Do We Treat It?
They might say the livin’ is easy in summertime, but that is not necessarily true for everyone. Plenty of people experience an increase in melancholy with the rising temperatures of the season, and many people actually find that it brings with it a higher level of stress, anxiety, tension, and depression. Experiencing summer in this way can feel disorienting, especially thanks to popular culture, with so many movies and songs telling us that the warmest months of the year are for letting loose, relaxing, socializing, and fun in the sun. But Seasonal Affective Disorder isn’t just a winter condition, and the summer months can deliver plenty of stressors of their own: childcare struggles, isolation, body image issues, chafing, and heat rash, to name a few. Let’s dive deeper into the struggle of summertime sadness – and how we might be able to cope with it better.
SAD for the summer
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an intermittent type of depression that’s most commonly associated with winter. Winter SAD is understood to be down to the reduction in natural light and warmth that impacts our levels of serotonin and melatonin: hormones that act as mood stabilizers and help us sleep better, respectively – and in doing so, affecting our happiness, for better or for worse.
Experiencing summer in hotter climates (such as the desert or sub-tropics) can leave people spending more time indoors, with the curtains drawn against stifling heat or the air conditioning pumping, to the same effect. Seasonal depression is found to affect at least 5% of the population, according to one US study – and it can also be triggered by the change in seasons. Summer SAD has been associated with anxiety, loss of appetite, insomnia, and irritability – one study found a correlation between warmer climates and violence and conflict. For those who have experienced a trauma in the summer, such as the rumored inspiration behind singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey’s hit song Summertime Sadness, the approach of warmer weather and all that comes with it might be associated with emotional pain, and all that comes with the traumatic memory. It might subconsciously trigger anxiety or grief, or be a very conscious source of anticipated distress.
It's not always fun in the sun
Social media’s idealized, sunny snapshot of summer can further add to the problem. We’re not all able to be surrounded by friends and lovers in beautiful locations during this time, and the FOMO can be fierce. The expectation for this season to be the time of our lives is impossibly high, and so many summer tropes are not accessible to all – from the financial strain of splashing cash on a cute new wardrobe, overpriced cocktails, and maybe even a holiday (whether a staycation or something overseas), to the misery that can come from displaying more flesh and failing to meet narrow and unrealistic beauty standards. For the introverts among us, the pressure to socialize and “make the most” of the sweaty weather can be oppressive, as can the aggressively upbeat energy of enforced fun from every direction. Add to all this the loss of the structure of school or college for some, and vacations impacting the routine and connection that serves a lifeline to many people’s mental health, it’s no wonder that summer can be a really challenging time.
Taking the heat off
SAD is a recognized medical condition, so if anything here sounds familiar, be sure to speak to a doctor or therapist about your symptoms. No one should have to suffer something that can be managed – and for a quarter of the year, no less – and a mental health professional will be able to recommend treatment. However, understanding and acknowledging that summertime isn’t always the easy time it’s reputed to be is the first step in cutting yourself a break.
Explore what it is about the season that you find challenging and think about ways you can mitigate the impact. If it’s a lack of routine, then establish your own with a daily visit to the library or an evening stroll when the weather is cooler. If it’s loneliness that you’re combating, then perhaps this is a great time to approach that. For instance, if you’re feeling temporarily lonely due to the majority of your friends leaving on holiday while you’re “left behind”, this may be a chance to reach out to some other acquaintances you haven’t seen in a while but want to develop a closer relationship with. It could also be a good time to explore some new hobbies with the bonus of making some new friends, expanding your social circle and network. This could also be an excellent opportunity to embrace the art of solitude: indulge in some self-care, begin a new activity that you’ve always wanted to have more time for, and allow yourself to satisfy your senses in a way that suits you and only you. If you’ve always wanted to adopt a pet, ask yourself if now is the perfect chance to do so.
If it’s the pressure to look good in more hot weather-friendly skimpier clothing that’s causing your seasonal distress, then think about how you can boost your confidence and self-esteem so that you’re more focused on doing whatever feels good. Make a list of the things you do like about summer (even if it’s shorter than a pair of Daisy Dukes!), and focus on those. Lean into those pleasures, and if it suits you better, work on the courage to challenge the norm as you release the pressure of expectation around how one should look and be during this season.
Breathe into whatever unfolds – and, if nothing else, try to enjoy some rest. The changing of the seasons reminds us of life’s transience, so if all else fails, you can at least take comfort from the fact that summer won’t last forever.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Quantifying The Influence Of Climate On Human Conflict; Seasonal Affective Disorder; Mood Worsening On Days With High Pollen Counts Is Associated With A Summer Pattern Of Seasonality; Contrasts Between Symptoms Of Summer Depression And Winter Depression; Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview Of Assessment And Treatment Approaches.
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