Signs You Suffer From Summer Depression

It's summertime, and the livin' is easy. At least that's what you've been led to believe based on songs and movies—and your friends' Facebook pages. But for some, summer isn't quite the funfest it's cracked up to be. In fact, it turns out plenty of people don't find bliss during summer. The hot, bright, long days turn them into gigantic grump buckets or make them genuinely sick. From vacation envy and arm-flab anxiety to actual summer-onset seasonal affective disorder (yes, it exists), here are 12 signs of summer depression.

Summer-Onset SAD

If your circadian rhythms are messed up, it can mean trouble—even if it's just a few less (or more) hours of sun each day. Norman Rosenthal, MD, and colleagues at the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) discovered seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and realized there's also a summer version. According to the NIMH, SAD is when people go through short periods of time where they feel sad or not like their usual selves. Sometimes, these mood changes begin and end when the seasons change. Summer SAD shows up as agitation rather than winter's lethargy. If you're not yourself and are too jittery to eat, sleep, or follow your usual routines, you may want to talk to your doctor about SAD.

Summer solution: Your doctor may want you to stay out of the bright light and heat or take antidepressants. While summer SAD is relatively rare, it can be dangerous and lead to feelings of suicide. If summer makes you manic, don't ignore it.

The Expectation Gap

If you build something up in your mind—whether vacations, holidays, or even the first bite of $50 truffle mac 'n' cheese—there can be a little (or even a ginormous) disconnect between your expectation and reality. That "gap" can cause minor disappointment, major stress, or even depression—especially if you feel you're the only one who's not having as much fun as expected.

Summer solution: Summer is no different. Expect perfection and you're bound to be bummed. Instead, be ready for rain on picnic day or lines at Disney World and you'll be pleasantly surprised if the day goes smoothly. Your attitude and ability to go with the flow have a lot to do with how much the "gap" will throw you. If reality is consistently getting you down, see a healthcare provider.

That Over-Amped Feeling

Life seems more animated in the summer—kids shriek, crowds bustle, fireworks explode—even the clothes are louder. The cacophony can make you anxious if you're already on overload or you need your quiet time.

Summer solution: Map your summer days and weeks so that you have plenty of quiet time built in, said Julie de Azevedo Hanks, author of The Burnout Cure: An Emotional Survival Guide for Overwhelmed Women. Intersperse higher-octane activities with lower-key ones. Leave time to wind down every night and limit caffeine, electronics, and distractions; focus on calming the noise inside and outside your body.

Your Screwed-Up Sleep

Long sunlit days can mean you get up earlier and stay up later—a recipe for sleep deprivation, which is more common in summer than any other time of the year, said Michael J. Breus, PhD, author of Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health. "Your body releases more of the stress hormone, cortisol when you're sleep-deprived," he said, which can contribute to depression. It can also increase emotional sensitivity.

Summer solution: Try to keep normal sleep hours in the summer, even if it means using heavy curtains to block out light. When you do get up, eat outside or in bright light to get a depression-fighting boost of sunlight. "Getting consistent sunlight in the a.m. helps reset your circadian clock," said Dr. Breus. If you feel your sleep problems are getting in the way of your quality of life, see a healthcare provider.

Disappearing Me Time

Admit it, "me time" is the only thing that saves your sanity on most crazy-busy days. And summer can do a major number on it as schedules are shot and commitments pile on faster than fleas on your hound.

Summer solution: If you have kids, share child care or chauffeuring responsibilities with other parents so you have time to do your stress-relieving workout early in the day. Use some vacay days just for yourself—to take a solo bike ride, get your feet or body beach-ready at the spa, or simply sit in a cool, dark movie theater blissfully alone. This is not an indulgence. This is preventive mental health care at its best.

All Those Slackers

You're surrounded by slackers, right? Or at least it feels that way. If half of the office is out on vacation and you're not, it can feel like nothing gets done—or it only gets done If you do it. No wonder you're frustrated, angry cranky pants.

Summer solution: Don't throw a pity party or make yourself sick with stress—take a vacation yourself! It's easy to feel put upon when you're carrying the load for someone else, but they'll be there for you when it's your turn. Definitely take your turn. People who don't take vacations aren't likely to be any more respected by upper management than those who do. And vacay-takers are healthier.

Facebook Envy

Everybody on Facebook seems to have a better backyard, dog, and marriage than you do. So, of course, they seem to have a better vacation (30 days long, really?!) and summer (Did they hire Martha Stewart for that luau?!) too. It can be depressing.

Summer solution: Pick your head up off your keyboard and take off the rose-colored glasses, said Dr. Hanks. "You're not seeing the real version of a person on Facebook." She added, "They're not going to post the fight they had with their husband. You can feel bad about Facebook or use it to inspire you. "No one has a perfect life, but some people do have more resources, time, and money. If you like what you're seeing on someone's Facebook, ask yourself 'How can I create that kind of fun within my budget?' or 'How can I make that happen my way?'"

Body-Image Blues

If you're already a bit uncomfortable with your body (and more than half of us aren't that thrilled with certain body parts), skimpy, warm-weather fashions may send you running for cover (the number of stories about how to cover up arm flab or prevent arm jiggle in the summer says it all).

Summer solution: "Given the unrealistic media expectations of how we're supposed to look, it's not surprising that body image is a depression trigger for women in the summer," said Dr. Hanks. But instead of feeling bad about it, focus on being the best possible version of yourself, she said. "My friend is six-two and I'm a foot shorter. I can't have her long legs; I just have to be the best me." Find summer clothes that flatter the parts of your body you like best and camouflage the parts you don't.

Money Is Tight

Vacation, camp, child care, family reunions—summer can be pricey whether you're traveling or just finding ways to keep the kids amused while you work. Worrying about finances can be just one more thing to juggle, adding to your summer anxiety or depression.

Summer solution: Choose the summer events and activities that are really meaningful and important to you and skip the ones that aren't the best "value" for your money. If it feels more like an obligatory to-do than a fun can't-wait, explain you can't swing it this year and cross it off your list. Cost-cutting measures like staycations and exploring your own hometown can turn out to be a whole lot of fun for not a lot of dough.

Fear and Loathing of the Outdoors

This might seem amusing, but the truth is if you're not a nature explorer, summer can be a real bummer. Either you feel left out of activities (camping, fishing, snorkeling, hiking, etc.), or you go along and are miserable because you're afraid that you (or a loved one) will get Lyme disease from a tick or bit by a shark.

Summer solution: In reality, the odds of serious mishaps are quite low. But if you're a woman, your odds of worrying about these (i.e., generalized anxiety) are higher than a man's. According to the Office on Women's Health, women are more likely than men to report symptoms of stress or have mental health conditions that are made worse by stress, such as depression or anxiety.

If your worries keep you from taking part in summer fun, consider seeing a therapist; cognitive behavioral therapy can ease anxieties and phobias. Try to plan fun events closer to home where you can be social without being on edge.

Time Really Does Fly

Some seasons feel like beginnings (the new school year in the fall) and others feel like endings, which can make you feel nostalgic or melancholy. For some people, summer rituals—unpacking the car after vacation, for example—are a reminder of how fast they or their children are getting older or how fleeting life is.

Summer solution: Yes, time is passing, but focusing on the past might not always be helpful. Instead, try to focus on the present. (If your feelings of sadness are overwhelming, seek medical help.) Take your best Instagrams of the summer and frame them on your wall—not as a sign of how fast time is passing but as a reminder of how great you felt in the moment and how you should focus on this one because right now is great too.

You Have Winter Sad in the Summer

If your summer has been particularly gloomy or rainy—or so hot that you've closed all of the curtains and closeted yourself in a darkened air-conditioned cocoon—that could be making you depressed, especially if you're prone to winter-onset SAD, according to Dr. Rosenthal.

Summer solution: Open the blinds, get light therapy, and talk to your doctor about other ways to combat the winter SAD symptoms, which can range from carb cravings to severe lethargy.

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