Summer is probably my favorite season of all. Living in Southern California means I don’t have to deal with any truly extreme weather which I appreciate. Many of my friends who are transplants from the east coast complain about longing for the change of season that they experienced growing up but I am quite content with our relatively moderate and monotonous weather out here.
Summertime to me means more time with my kids and less pressure to keep to a tight schedule. I love the longer days and the warm nights and the many outdoor activity options. In short, summertime makes me happy.
It does appear that people in general tend to have a bit of a spring in their step during these months. They are not burdened by the pressures of the holidays or the cumbersome clothing needed to keep their little ones warm in the colder months. But according to Ian A. Cook, director of the Depression Research Program at UCLA, about 10% of people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) get the symptoms in the summer. Dr. Cook also mentions that in countries that are closer to the equator more people get SAD in the summer than in the winter.
Dr. Cook has isolated the main reasons why these summer blues may set in. If you are someone who suffers from SAD in the summer than understanding the nature of this disorder may help you to combat the symptoms or avoid them all together.
A Change in Routine
Most people who suffer depression find it helpful to stick to their routines. A predictable schedule can help to maintain more predictable moods. Summer can wreak havoc with that schedule. Kids being out of school mean you need to come up with new ways to occupy their time, which means they are even more dependent upon you than usual.
This can be daunting if you are feeling emotionally shaky. Sleeping and eating patterns are typically disrupted and vacation time changes the routine entirely. In order to combat this program disruption, try creating an altered schedule for yourself. While it may look different than the one you adhere to during the other months it can be something you follow during the summer. Include all of the things that are important to you but just at different times and maybe even durations than you normally experience. Create this schedule well before summer arrives so you are prepared to shift gears when it does.
Exercise and Mood
Change in exercise routine can also cause mood changes. Some people feel it is too hot to get up and move around especially outdoors. For some the heat causes a lethargy that makes them feel sluggish. Avoiding the heat may mean staying indoors in search of air conditioning. The danger of this is that indoor activities often include watching television or other sedentary activities. Even cooking can seem daunting when it means needing to turn on the stove or create more heat in some way. This can cause people to snack more or eat quick unhealthy meals more often.
So design a plan to stick to your exercise routine in a way that makes sense given the heat. Walk or run early in the morning when the temperature is still tolerable. If swimming is available to you then take advantage of the warm days and nights and do some laps in a pool. Make conscious choices about food that will give your body energy but not weigh you down. If your habit is to reach for the quick snack then make it some fresh cut vegetables which will keep you cool and satisfy your hunger.
Body image can be an issue during the summer months as bathing suits start to appear and it becomes more difficult to hide behind layers of clothing. Sticking to your exercise routine can help you to feel better about yourself as well as finding cool clothing that isn’t revealing and helps you feel more attractive. If you find yourself avoiding social situations because you are uncomfortable with your appearance then now may be the time to look into discussing these issues with a therapist.
Along with summer usually come summer vacations, especially if you have school age children. There is often a great deal of discussion around who is going where for the summer and this can cause stress around financial issues. If money is a concern and causing you to dread summer then try to recognize a few things.
Firstly, you are not alone. Many people are struggling with the same issue. Try getting creative with your vacation ideas. Just because you may not be able to afford the vacation of your dreams doesn’t mean you can’t plan something fun. Look for getaways that are in your budget or decide to stay close to home and plan daytrips. Create a family summer project to work on together whether that means a home improvement plan or an art creation.
The point of all of these suggestions is to stay involved and engaged in life when you may otherwise want to retreat. If you recognize yourself to be someone who struggles with depression during the summer months then try to change your idea about summer this year. Create new memories and begin to change summer’s image in your mind. Since it is sure to arrive once every year it is a good plan to know how to not only endure it but to enjoy it to the best of your ability.