For most people, the arrival of this week’s hot and sunny weather was a welcome occurrence. But for those who suffer from summer seasonal affective disorder, or ‘reverse SAD’, it’s been anything but. Here’s everything you need to know about the condition.
Ah, summer. Thanks to its hot, sunny weather and long, drawn-out days, it’s many people’s favourite season; for most, this time of year is associated with happy days spent sunbathing on the beach or picnicking with friends.
However, not everyone finds that this time of year has such a positive effect on their mood – in fact, for those who deal with summer seasonal affective disorder, or summer SAD for short, it has the exact opposite effect.
Although seasonal affective disorder is typically associated with the winter months when the short days, bad weather and low levels of sunlight often leave people feeling lethargic and low, it can also strike in the summer, too.
Summer SAD is a lot less common than winter SAD – it’s believed that around 1% of the population experiences it – but for those who do deal with it, it can be an incredibly isolating and difficult experience.
To find out more about summer SAD – including what causes it and how to cope if you’re struggling – we asked Lisa Jury, a psychotherapist and BWRT (BrainWorking Recursive Technique) specialist to share her expertise. Here’s what she had to say.
What are the symptoms of summer SAD?
The symptoms you can expect with summer SAD are similar to those produced by seasonal affective disorder in the winter.
However, as the NHS explains on their website, “the nature and severity of SAD varies from person to person”. This means that, while one sufferer might experience one or two mild symptoms, others may experience more severe symptoms which impact on day-to-day life.
What causes summer SAD?
People often find the concept of summer SAD hard to wrap their heads around, because winter SAD is thought to be linked to a lack of sunlight exposure – something that’s rarely a problem during the summer months.
However while, like winter SAD, the cause of summer SAD is not entirely understood, it’s thought that reverse SAD could be caused by too much sunlight exposure, which leads to the same modulations in melatonin production which are caused by a lack of sunlight exposure in winter, too.
“Too much sunlight is thought to turn off melatonin production,” Jury explains. “Melatonin is the hormone that drives your sleep-wake cycle. For example, if you get up in the night and put the light on, this exposure to the light can be enough to pause its production. The longer days can mean fewer hours of melatonin production.”
By reducing the amount of melatonin you produce, increased sunlight exposure can therefore disrupt your circadian rhythm and your ability to sleep, both of which can, in turn, affect your mood.
However, this isn’t the only reason why experts believe some people experience summer SAD: non-biological factors such as financial stress triggered by the expense of summer, disrupted schedules due to vacations and time away from work and body image issues are all thought to play a role.
Indeed, as Stephen Buckley, head of information at the mental health charity Mind, previously told Patient: “Lots of people find body image worries are heightened in summer, especially for people who are unhappy with their weight, size or have scars from self-harming, for example.”
How to cope with summer SAD
Dealing with SAD at a time of year when everyone around you is having fun and enjoying the weather can be pretty tough. However, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and there are things that can be done to ease your symptoms – many of which you can do yourself, at home.
Make a dark space
If the early mornings and late evenings are making it hard for you to sleep, or you just want somewhere to decompress, you could try creating a dark space for yourself.
“Instead of light therapy, people who have summer SAD may be advised to spend more time in darkened rooms,” Jury explains. “Line your windows with blackout curtains to block out that early morning light.”
Keep yourself cool
It’s not just the light levels that can affect you during the summer. Feeling uncomfortably hot can also leave you feeling irritable and upset – a study from Poland’s Poznan University found that levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, spike during the summer – and can also mess with your sleep.
With this in mind, keeping yourself cool can help to alleviate any additional problems and make sleeping that little bit easier.
“Open the windows before you go to bed to cool the room down and use a fan,” Jury recommends. “Think about using ice in bottles like a reverse hot water bottle.”
If you’ve struggled with summer SAD for a number of years, chances are you’ve grown to associate this time of year with feeling anxious and irritable, so even the slightest change in weather can trigger these negative emotions.
To unpick this association, Jury explains, therapy is a great place to start.
“Modern therapies like BrainWorking Recursive Technique can be effective,” she says. “It’s been designed to remove the emotional responses from deeply troubling issues and create new adaptive neural pathways that do not have the old undesirable response attached to it.”
She continues: “In the case of reverse SAD, it works by helping the sufferer to retrain their brain to look at a particular time of the year in a different and more positive way.”
If you think you might have summer SAD and you’re struggling to cope, it’s important to seek help from your GP.
As the NHS explains on its online seasonal affective disorder guide: “The GP can carry out an assessment to check your mental health. They may ask you about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.”
Your GP may also be able to point you towards other treatments, such as therapy and medication such as antidepressants.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS list of mental health helplines and organisations here.
If you are struggling with your mental health, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.
You can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for confidential support.