While Kiara was enjoying the long hot summer, her brother Rahul had begun to cast a cloud of depression.
He began to exhibit depressive symptoms like oversleeping, fatigue, irritability and even feelings of hopelessness. He had isolated himself from friends and family and would spend most of his days on the couch with a big bag of potato chips.
There were times he wondered why he felt so low, but little did he know that it was the season to blame. He had been hit by the Summer Blues also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (also called SAD) is when we have depressive symptoms during specific times of the year such as the winter, summer or monsoons. It is a type of depression that occurs in a seasonal pattern, for instance, a depressive episode that lasts all through winter every year and diminishes as the summer begins to set in.
People who suffer from a depressive disorder with seasonal pattern generally lose interest or pleasure in most daily activities, may have significant weight gain and engage in regular overeating, and trouble falling or staying asleep, but with a constant feeling of energy throughout the day, most days.
Feelings of worthlessness and feelings of guilt may be common, as well as an inability to think or concentrate, or finish tasks at work or school. Some people even experience recurrent thoughts of death.
This specifier does not apply to those situations in which the pattern is better explained by seasonally-linked psychosocial stressors (e.g., seasonal unemployment or school schedule).
Major depressive episodes that occur in a seasonal pattern are characterized by:
SAD symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include many symptoms similar to major depression, such as:
- A feeling of sadness or depressed mood
- Marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite; usually eating more, craving carbohydrates
- Change in sleep; usually sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
- Increase in restless activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide
SAD may begin at any age, but it typically starts when a person is between ages 18 and 30.
Some of the triggers are listed below, so it’s important to take notice of these symptoms, especially if they generally occur like clockwork for you every time summer comes around. That can indicate the cyclical nature of your summer depression.
- Disruption of routine — very bad for those suffering from depression. Having a consistent and reliable routine for anyone, let alone someone battling some form of depression is key to managing and staving off symptoms. But during the summer, routine goes out the window — and that disruption can be stressful. It’s therefore important to try to maintain a consistent sleeping, eating, and exercising routines/schedules as you hopefully try to do throughout the year. If things get thrown to the wayside your summertime depression will not be lifted that quickly.
- Not sleeping. Staying up later because the days are longer in the summertime, naturally exposes you to more light. This can cause you to not sleep well by tossing and turning or not sleeping at all. Since people stay up later, and/or are exposed to more sunlight, there can be a disturbance in your sensitive circadian rhythm.
- Bad moods. The precursor of melatonin, is the neurotransmitter serotonin, a major player in regulating mood. By reducing melatonin production, SAD increases the risk of depression and other mood disorders.
- Body insecurities. More women suffer from this more than men, but men, of course, may also fall in this category. Some people with reverse SAD might avoid the beach, or any outdoor activity because of their insecurities revolving their “imperfect” bodies. While most people can feel like this from time to time, those with reverse SAD feel it very acutely, which propels their summertime depression even more.
- Expectations of Summer/Obligation to do fun things. Since summer is supposed to be fun, and relaxing, you’re “supposed” to be entertaining, or naturally, in an upbeat mood, it just isn’t fun and relaxing for you. Since most people cannot comprehend such a thing, that can cause you to feel really lonely, whereby you might ask yourself “What’s wrong with me?” You might even entertain the notion that summer is truly endless, and not coming to a close soon enough for you.
The heat, and not being able to beat it. Research also suggests that high temperatures might also play a role in reverse SAD. The summer heat can be particularly oppressive and agitating to those suffering from reverse Sad. This may contribute to their depression because they often opt to stay indoors, even when it’s a bit cooler out. This leads to social isolation, which is very detrimental to those suffering from reverse SAD.
- Genetic component. Researchers think there may also be a genetic component; more than two-thirds of patients with SAD have a relative with a major mood disorder.
So what causes the weather to affect our mood?
- Circadian rhythm: Like in all living being, the circadian rhythm or the biological clock is what regulates our sleep and wake cycles. This biological clock is synchronized by our regular exposure to light and darkness and explains why we feel energized or sleepy during the same time each day. In seasons such as the monsoons or in winter, when there are shorter days or less sunlight, our rhythm is often disrupted causing us to feel moody or depressed.
- Melatonin levels – Melatonin is a natural hormone that manifests the circadian rhythm. High levels of melatonin promote sleep. These melatonin secretions, made by the body’s pineal gland are naturally low during daylight and start increasing at the onset of darkness. So during darker seasons like winters and monsoons, we usually have higher melatonin levels making people with SAD feel less energetic and alert.
- Serotonin Levels – Serotonin, a neurotransmitter in our bodies, is responsible for many important functions including regulating our moods. When we soak up the sun, our serotonin levels rise which in turn does wonder to our energy levels, mood, appetite, sleep schedule and more. However, low serotonin levels have been linked to depression, triggered during seasons with reduced sunlight.
- Excessive Sunlight and Heat – While winter witnesses many cases of SAD in most other countries, the warmer parts of India have reported quite a few cases of SAD during the summers. It is no surprise that with the mercury levels often soaring over 40 degrees Celsius, people with SAD would have their anxiety levels soaring along as well. In summers, with rising temperature and avoidance of going out of the home due to heat/temperature there again is a lower probability of getting exposed to Vitamin D which is essential for the body. It is natural that one can become grumpy, tired or even depressed when the summer is a little too hot for one’s liking.
So, if you feel that the sweltering heat of summer is robbing you of your sleep, OR the winters find you hibernating excessively, here’s what you can do:
When you consider that brain tissue is 85 percent water and our bodies are 70 percent water, it’s easier to understand why hydrating yourself is so important. Dehydration causes a shortage of tryptophan, an important amino acid that is converted to serotonin in the brain. Our bodies can’t detoxify when there is a shortage of water, so tryptophan isn’t distributed to the necessary parts of the brain. Low levels of amino acids in the body can contribute to depression, anxiety, and irritability.
Even mild dehydration—approximately 1.5 percent loss in normal water volume — can affect our moods and impair our concentration.
- Stay away from diet soda.
It’s easy to grab a Diet Coke when you feel hot and thirsty, but a recent study by the National Institute of Health showed that people who drink four cans or more of diet soda daily are about 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than people who don’t drink soda. Coffee drinkers are about 10 percent less likely to develop depression than people who don’t drink coffee.
People with mood disorders are especially sensitive to the artificial sweetener aspartame in most diet sodas.
3. Eat ice cream.
Research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience explored the relationship between comfort food and mood. Studies did discover that the brain chemical that motivates us to eat, called ghrelin, can act as a kind of antidepressant. Ghrelin rises before meals and is associated with feelings of hunger.
4. Regular Exercise Routine
Morning walks, Yoga, Zumba, any physical fitness can trigger serotonin activity levels, that brighten up your mood and relieve anxieties.
A daily dose of exposure to nature and sunlight, even if on your own terrace or balcony can do wonders for your mental health.
Need a break from the heat, cold or rain? Maybe you could plan in advance and make a short trip to a place with weather that refreshes your mood.
7. Massage Therapy
Another enjoyable way to boost serotonin levels if you have SAD would be to treat yourself to a massage. Let loose, relax, release the stress and usher in a rejuvenated you.
Taking to a counsellor or therapist can support you with breaking patterns of negative thought and learning skills to better manage mood shifts through the season. Psychotherapy is another option to treat SAD. A type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy can help you:
- Identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse
- Learn healthy ways to cope with SAD, especially with reducing avoidance behavior and scheduling activities
- Learn how to manage stress
9. Mind-body connection
Examples of mind-body techniques that some people may choose to try to help cope with SAD include:
- Relaxation techniques such as yoga or tai chi
- Guided imagery
- Music or art therapy
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