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You Can Get SAD In the Summer, Too

Mental health illustration.

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Key Takeaways

  • Seasonal affective disorder is usually linked to the winter months, but it can happen in the summer, too.
  • Summertime SAD is less common than wintertime SAD.
  • The pandemic may have raised your risk of developing SAD this summer.

The start of this year’s summer season coincides with many slowly returning to pre-pandemic life. While many people are celebrating the change, you might be surprised to find you feel lethargic, irritable, and down.

While there are many possible reasons for a change in mood, when it coincides with a change in seasons, it could be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This disorder is usually linked to the winter months, but it can impact people in the summer, too, Hanne Hoffmann, PhD, an assistant professor at Michigan State University who studies how light affects mood and brain function, tells Verywell. “The prevalence of summer SAD is estimated to be a little lower than winter SAD, but still affects a significant number of people,” she says. 

A return to normalcy may aggravate summertime SAD symptoms in people who are already prone to the condition, psychologist John Mayer, PhD, creator of the podcast, Anxiety's a B!tch, tells Verywell.

“COVID has heightened the effects of the summertime SAD possibilities,” he says. “Summer has unique characteristics and opportunities, but these create transitions and change is anxiety-provoking.”

The pandemic has even set some people up to be at an increased risk for SAD, Hoffmann says. “Many, if not most people have experienced increased and prolonged stress during COVID-19 [and] chronic stress is a risk factor for mood disorders,” she says. While there’s no data on COVID-19's impact on SAD, Hoffmann points out that “there was a significant increase in the diagnosis of depression and mood disorders during the summer of 2020.”

With the return to a more normal life this summer, Hoffmann says that people will likely feel one of two different ways. “Some people will feel better, thanks to feeling safe among friends, and being able to have more in-person social interactions, which is helpful to reduce and present SAD,” she says. “On the other hand, some people might experience more anxiety and stress, due to the uncertainty of being with more people again.”

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder was first described in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 1984 by researchers who detailed 29 patients that had depressive symptoms in the winter. A few years later, some of the same researchers published case reports in the American Journal of Psychiatry about 12 people who had SAD during the warmer months.

SAD usually starts in the late fall or early winter, with symptoms going away in the spring and summer. But it can happen in the summer too. The disorder can cause mood changes that impact how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities—all linked to a change in seasons. Young adults are more likely to develop SAD than people in other age groups, and women are diagnosed much more often than men.

The Source Behind Summertime SAD

It’s not entirely clear what causes any form of SAD, and that’s especially true with the summertime version of the condition. However, there are some theories.

“It is believed that the intense light in the summer, which might be accompanied by heat and high humidity, are involved in the change in mood and well-being,” Hoffmann says. “One hypothesis is that the intense sun in some people overexcites your brain, which might cause anxiety, sleeplessness, and agitation.” 

Research suggests that people with SAD may have reduced levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate mood. People with SAD might also produce too much melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Changes in both serotonin and melatonin levels can mess up a person’s daily rhythms and they may have difficulty adjusting physically and mentally to seasonal changes as a result.

What Are the Symptoms?

SAD is considered a form of major depressive disorder, and there are some overlapping symptoms. Symptoms of major depression that you may experience with SAD include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
  • Having problems with sleep
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having low energy
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

You may also experience insomnia, poor appetite, and restlessness.

What This Means For You

While SAD during the summer may be less common, it still happens. If you're feeling any SAD symptoms try working on improving your sleep, eating nutritious foods, and managing your stress. You can also reach out to a mental healthcare provider foe additional help.

How to Treat Summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder

The first step is diagnosis. To be diagnosed with SAD, you need to experience depressive episodes that happen during specific seasons for at least two years in a row. 

Treatment for SAD usually involves the use of psychotherapy and antidepressant medications, and, because many people with SAD often have vitamin D deficiency, vitamin D supplementation.

Treatment for summertime SAD, in particular, is “not well established,” Hoffmann says, but she says there are a few things that may help.

Work on Your Sleep

“Improving your sleep quality will help make you feel better,” Hoffmann says. She recommends developing good, consistent evening and nighttime routines.

This can include:

  • Reducing your light exposure before bed
  • Doing relaxing indoor activities like yoga, meditation, or reading
  • Avoiding food or drinks that can keep you awake, like caffeinated products, alcohol, and chocolate

Manage Your Stress Levels

“Chronic stress is a risk factor for depression,” Hoffmann says. That’s why she suggests talking to friends to de-stress and attending smaller events if you feel overwhelmed by large gatherings.

Follow a Healthy Diet

Loss of appetite can be a problem with summertime SAD, but eating a regular, healthy diet can help your body recover from the condition, Hoffmann says.

“To help you remember to eat, make a daily schedule for when you will eat, and make sure you stick to it,” she says. You can also make an effort to sit down for regular meals with your family.

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Article Sources
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  1. Rosenthal NE, Sack DA, Gillin JC, et al. Seasonal affective disorder: a description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapyArch Gen Psychiatry. 1984;41(1):72-80. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1984.01790120076010

  2. Wehr TA, Sack DA, Rosenthal NE. Seasonal affective disorder with summer depression and winter hypomania. Am J Psychiatry. 1987;144(12):1602-3. doi:10.1176/ajp.144.12.1602

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Seasonal affective disorder. Updated October 28, 2020.

  4. American Psychiatric Association. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Updated October 2020.