The weather is getting colder, and it is getting darker earlier. For many on Long Island, that means the onset of season affective disorder, often called seasonal depression.
Seasonal depression is a type of depression that is typically caused by and associated with the dark, cold days of winter. That is because season depression is partially biological, with a link between reduced light/changing of the seasons and alterations to brain chemistry.
But seasonal depression is also a bit more complicated. While winter seasonal depression is far more common due to the lack of sunlight affecting our internal body clocks, reduced physical activity, and the emotional toll of the holidays, seasonal depression in summer can still occur.
Why Seasonal Depression is Predominantly a Winter Phenomenon
Before delving into the intricacies of summer seasonal depression, it’s important to clarify why winter is the season most often linked to depression.
Reduced exposure to sunlight affects the body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked to mood regulation. The shorter days and longer nights also disrupt the body’s internal clock, leading to feelings of sadness and lethargy. This combination means that some people experience an essentially biological response to the changing seasons.
((note: even though seasonal depression has a biological component, it can still respond to psychological treatment. Treatment for the mind can affect how it responds to various external stimuli.))
That is also not the only potential winter cause of seasonal depression, either. The cold weather can deter people from engaging in physical activity and socializing, further contributing to depressive symptoms. Some people also have trauma around family, which can increase around the holidays. All these factors coalesce to make winter the peak season for seasonal depression, and the most commonly associated timeframe for good reason.
Unpacking the Causes of Summer Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression may be most likely in winter, but it can still occur in other seasons, including summer. Summer brings its own set of unique challenges that can contribute to feelings of depression. These causes may not be as widely recognized but can still lead to depression nonetheless. They include:
Heat and Humidity
Contrary to the energizing effect that sunny days have on many people, high temperatures and excessive humidity can have the opposite effect on others. The discomfort can lead to irritability, reduced sleep quality, and even physical symptoms like dehydration, all of which can contribute to feelings of depression.
Disruption in Routine
Many people thrive on routine, and the laid-back atmosphere of summer can lead to a disruption in one’s daily structure. This lack of routine can make people feel untethered, leading to feelings of aimlessness and, consequently, depression.
Summer can be an expensive season. The costs associated with vacations, childcare, or even increased use of air conditioning can pile up, causing financial stress and, consequently, symptoms of depression.
Body Image Concerns
The societal pressure to achieve a ‘summer body’ can intensify existing body image issues. For some, the constant bombardment of ‘ideal bodies’ on social media and advertising can be a trigger for depressive feelings.
Allergens and Physical Health
The increased pollen counts and other allergens prevalent in summer can directly affect mood. Studies have shown a correlation between allergies and depression, highlighting the impact of physical well-being on mental health.
Social Comparisons and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
The increase in social activities during summer can contribute to feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and FOMO, particularly when one is unable to participate or engage in these activities due to various reasons, including financial constraints or social anxieties.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Longer days and increased activities can lead to a change in sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality is a known contributor to depression, making it a vital factor to consider in understanding summer seasonal depression.
Climate Change Depression
As the summers get hotter, many people find that they are struggling with a form of depression directly linked to severe heat. The association between climate change and global warming can cause many people to feel depressed or saddened by the extreme weather patterns. Further, extremely hot weather may keep people indoors more, which means less sunlight and more dark days.
Co-Existing Mental Health Conditions
Individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions may find their symptoms exacerbated during summer. For instance, people with generalized anxiety disorder may find their anxiety spiking due to the various stressors and changes associated with the summer season.
Just as winter season can be associated with trauma, so too can summer. Some people had experiences in summer that caused summer to be a season that leads to depressed feelings as those reminders and experiences pop up.
Seeking Professional Help
If you find yourself grappling with unexpected feelings of depression during the summer, it is crucial to seek professional help for diagnosis and treatment. At Right Path Counseling, we offer an array of treatment options, tailored to meet your unique needs.
While seasonal depression is most frequently associated with winter, the phenomenon can indeed occur during the summer months due to a variety of factors ranging from physical discomfort and social pressures to disruptions in routine. Acknowledging and understanding these factors are the first steps in managing and treating summer seasonal depression effectively. Should you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, professional help is readily available to provide you with the tools to navigate this complex issue.