Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder: Why Summertime Blues are Real & How to Manage


Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder: Why Summertime Blues are Real & How to Manage

Lauren Modery
By Lauren Modery
Aug 14, 2019
Lady on dock struggling with seasonal affective disorder looking out into the ocean and horizon

You’ve probably heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) when it comes to cold, bleak wintertime, but did you know individuals can suffer from SAD in the summer too?

While 9/10 of people who suffer from SAD experience it in the winter, some individuals find themselves sinking into a slump during the warm days of spring and summer. Just like wintertime SAD, suffers of reverse SAD often lose weight, feel anxious, depressed or sluggish, have trouble sleeping and have a poor appetite.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, as the name suggests, is a category of depression experienced during the change of seasons. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it primarily affects young people, people with existing depression, women, or people who live further from the equator. While there is no clear answer as to what causes reversed SAD, researchers and medical professionals point to serotonin or melatonin imbalances, or vitamin D deficiency. Some theorize that hot temperatures can play a role. The University of Michigan Health blog lists schedule changes, vacations, psychosocial issues like divorce, daylight patterns and social events as five possible triggers for reverse SAD.

We interviewed several people who experience heightened depression in the summer, and they all said the thing: the extreme heat and sun made them feel awful. They all spoke of coming back to life once the crisp, cool air of fall came around.

“I’m not sure why I experience it,” says Elizabeth from Los Angeles. I hate the heat, so I’m always uncomfortable physically, and I also find endless sunshine extremely depressing. I feel so much better and more energized mentally, emotionally and physically when there are clouds.” She points to the long days of summer as feeling oppressive, causing immense pressure to partake in outdoor activities. “In the other seasons, I don’t feel that pressure.”

Renee, from steamy Austin, Texas, has suffered from summertime sadness for a long time. Several years ago she started a job in the summer, only to find herself going to work “grumpy and dressed poorly.” By the time fall rolled around, she noticed a spring in her step and the desire to dress up. “I wore a dress and tights, did my hair, and was super upbeat. My boss said, “Whoa, look at you all dressed up! What’s going on?” I said, “You’ve only met Summer Renee. She hates life and doesn’t try much. Fall Renee is super happy and loves to dress up.”

Reverse SAD isn’t strictly a warm climate affliction. Taylor from Connecticut, a state that experiences temperate climates for the majority of the year, feels it too. “For me, the best part of summer is the afternoon thunderstorms because they provide a little respite from the summer weather, too.”

When asked if she’s sought treatment for her reverse SAD, Taylor explains that it’s been challenging. “I find that a lot of doctors or psychiatrists are hesitant to diagnose summertime SAD or maybe ignorant to its existence. I’ve had more than one interaction where I’ve brought up SAD with a medical professional, but as soon as I specify that I experience it during the summer, the diagnosis seems to go out the window.”

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Reverse SAD is not as heavily researched as traditional SAD, but its treatment should be the same year-round, says William Schroeder, LPC, NCC, and co-owner of Just Mind in Austin, Texas. For treatment, he points to depression medication as being helpful, as well as melatonin and mindful tools such as Headspace. He encourages his patients to spend time outdoors and expose themselves to sunlight.

“Working with SAD as a therapist can commonly involve cognitive behavioral therapy and identifying negative thoughts and avoidance behaviors and working on coping techniques to overcome them. Often this helps to lower systemic stress.”

But treating SAD is sometimes about getting to the root of the issue. “Often things relating to the thyroid, diet, sleep, life adjustments can look very similar [to SAD],” Schroeder says. “So going through a physical exam, lab test, and meeting with a therapist can help rule out a lot of things.”

We asked our subjects what steps they take to combat their summertime blues. Most say that they just try to limit their time outdoors. “Typically I don’t go outside during the summer,” says Taylor. “Stay indoors more,” Renee adds. “[I] try not to leave the house until the sun is setting to get a little blue sky in. I used to go to LA in the summers, but now it’s usually as hot there!”

“I just suck it up until autumn,” says Elizabeth.

If you experience reverse SAD, you are not alone. If it is getting in the way of living your life, speak to your doctor or mental health provider on steps you can take to combat it.

Lauren Modery

Lauren Modery

Lauren Modery is a writer based in Boulder, CO. She’s written for Google, LIVESTRONG Foundation, Whole Foods, City of Austin, The Guardian, GOOD Magazine, Fodor’s, and several health & wellness startups. Her award-winning film, Loves Her Gun, premiered at SXSW in 2013 and was selected as a Critic’s Pick in the New York Times. Lauren is a regular contributor to the RxSaver Blog.

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