Summer depression: Causes and coping skills

Summer is supposed to be fun and relaxing, but if you’ve got summer depression, it isn’t. For some people, summer depression has a biological cause. For others, the particular stresses of summer can pile up and make them feel miserable.

Especially hard is that you feel like you’re supposed to be having a great time. Everyone else seems so happy about the warm weather and being outdoors, so why can’t you?

Why do some people feel more depressed in summer? The Christian Health Care Counseling Center staff explains some of the causes.

Summertime seasonal-affective disorder (SAD)
You’ve probably heard about seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which affects about 4 to 6 percent of the population. SAD typically causes depression as the days get shorter and colder, but about 10 percent of people with SAD get it in the reverse – the onset of summer triggers their depression symptoms. Longer days, and increasing heat and humidity may play a role. Specific symptoms of summer depression often include loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, weight loss, and anxiety

Disrupted schedules in the summer
If you’ve had depression before, you probably know that having a reliable routine is often key to staving off symptoms. But during the summer, routine goes out the window, and that disruption can be stressful. If you have children in grade school, you may need to keep them occupied all day, every day. If your kids are in college, you may suddenly find them – and all their boxes of stuff – back in the house after a nine-month absence. Vacations can disrupt your work, sleep, and eating habits, all of which can all contribute to summer depression.

Body-image issues
As the temperature climbs and the layers of clothing fall away, a lot of people feel self-conscious about their bodies. Feeling embarrassed in shorts or a bathing suit can make life awkward, not to mention hot. Since so many summertime gatherings revolve around beaches and pools, some people start avoiding social situations out of embarrassment.

Financial worries
Summers can be expensive. There may be a vacation, and if you’re a working parent, you may have the expense of summer camps or babysitters to keep your children occupied while you work.

The heat.
Many people relish the heat of summer, but for people who don’t, summer heat can become truly oppressive. You may start spending every weekend in your air-conditioned home or skip your usual before-dinner walks because of humidity.

Coping tip

Get help.
If you think you’re depressed, no matter what time of year, get help. Christian Health Care Counseling Center treats children, adolescents, adults, and seniors through a variety of treatment options.

Plan ahead.
There’s one advantage to a summer depression: you know when it’s coming.Think about specific aspects of your life that become difficult during the summer. What will help prevent summer depression? What’s the best way to take time off from work? Would signing up the kids for summer programs or camp help relieve your stress? You’ll feel a lot more in control heading into the summer if you have plans in place.

Vacations, summer barbecues, and shorter nights can encourage you to stay up later than usual, but not getting enough sleep is a common trigger for depression. Make a concerted effort to get to bed on time.

Keep up with your exercise.
Many studies have found that regular physical activity can help keep depression at bay. So even if it’s getting too hot for your normal activities, find other ways to stay active and head off summer depression. Start earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when it’s not so hot. Consider fitness equipment for the cool basement. If an annual membership to a gym is too expensive, consider joining one for a couple of months just to get you through the summer.

Don’t overdo dieting and fitness.
Don’t kick off the summer with a frenzy of dieting and exercise in order to fit into last year’s bathing suit. It’s bound to make you unhappy and anxious. Instead, exercise sensibly and eat moderately. If you try an insanely restrictive diet, you probably won’t be able to keep it up. And that “failure” will just leave you more demoralized and worsen your summer depression.

Protect yourself.
Don’t let obligations drag you down. Maybe you always host the enormous family barbecue on Memorial Day or the July 4 picnic, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, give it a pass this year. Ask another relative to host. Don’t risk pushing yourself into a summer depression just to live up to tradition.

Think about why.
If you struggle with summer depression year after year, ask yourself if there’s a reason. Do you associate summer with a difficult time in the past – the death of a loved one or the break-up of a relationship? Have you had previous bouts of depression during the summer? Without even realizing it, you may have started to associate the summer with sadness – an association that gets stronger every summer that you spend depressed.

Talk to your doctor about adjusting your medication.
If you’re on medicine for depression, and you find that summer – year after year – makes your depression worse, talk to your doctor about changing your dosage.

Plan your vacation carefully.
Before you book your plane tickets or load up your car’s roof rack for your annual summer vacation, ask yourself, will it make you happy or will it stretch your finances, stress you out, and make you fall behind at work? Consider alternatives. Instead of taking a whole week off at once, might it be better to take off several long weekends spread out through the summer? Would taking time off but staying at home – a “staycation” – be more relaxing? Don’t get locked into a vacation that won’t feel like a vacation.

Don’t beat yourself up.
One thing that’s hard about summer depression is that you feel so out of step. Everyone else seems to be having such a swell time. You aren’t. You keep asking yourself, “What’s wrong with me?” Try not to think that way. Stop assuming that you’re supposed to be happy just because the calendar says it’s June. Instead, concentrate on what’s triggering your summer depression and how you can overcome it.

For more information about Christian Health Care Counseling Center, call (201) 848-5800.

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