The vast majority of us will experience a low mood from time to time during which we may feel sad, anxious, hopeless, frustrated, and fatigued. We will typically face a low mood after major life changes or distressing events such as the loss of a loved one, unemployment, or illness, to name a few. Sometimes, we may even experience a low mood with no clear explanation.
For some of us, these low moods may coincide with seasonal changes (e.g., we may feel increased sadness when days are shorter during the winter and happier when days are longer during the spring). In some instances, however, these low moods may be indicative of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), SAD is a type of depression that follows a recurrent seasonal pattern that typically lasts 4 to 5 months yearly. Winter-pattern SAD, the more common pattern of SAD, starts during the late fall and early winter and subsides during the spring and summer. With the spring season upon us and summer right around the corner, it is important for us to navigate the less common summer-pattern SAD.
What are the signs and symptoms of summer-pattern SAD?
Since summer-pattern SAD is a type of depression, the signs and symptoms include those associated with major depressive disorder in addition to its own symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of major depressive disorder include:
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness throughout most of the day, nearly every day
- Having low energy, so much so that even small tasks require a lot of effort
- Difficulties concentrating and remembering
- Troubled sleeping (either too much or too little)
- Experiencing changes in appetite and/or weight
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Frequent thoughts of death and/or suicide
Specific signs and symptoms of summer-pattern SAD include:
- Increased anxiety and restlessness
- Heightened irritability and agitation
- Persistent problems in falling and staying asleep (insomnia).
- Decreased appetite and/or weight loss
- Episodes of violent behavior
What causes summer-pattern SAD?
Although there is no consensus on what exactly causes summer-pattern SAD, most theories suggest an excessive amount of sunlight as the culprit. Sunlight tends to inhibit the production of melatonin (a hormone heavily involved in our sleep cycle) and disturb our ability to fall asleep, which can cause a slew of problems such as depressed mood, poor memory, and anxiety. Furthermore, research suggests that excessive heat during the summer months can cause an increase in irritability and a decrease in mood. It is thought that both of these have a role in summer-pattern SAD.
How is summer-pattern SAD treated?
Currently, there is no established optimal treatment for summer-pattern SAD, but the following may help:
- Keeping cool: Given the researched correlation between heat and irritability, using air-conditioning and staying out of the heat for extended periods of time may help improve mood.
- Improving sleep quality: Given the connection between summer-pattern SAD and sunlight, some people may benefit from sleeping in a dark, cool room in order to get higher quality sleep.
- Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a common type of psychotherapy that aims to help manage our problems by changing the way we think and behave, is often used to treat depressive disorders like summer-pattern SAD. Working with a psychotherapist can introduce new ways of thinking and behaving when it comes to summer-pattern SAD.
Although summer-pattern SAD is less common than winter-pattern SAD, the symptoms can be just as debilitating. If you find yourself exhibiting any of the above-mentioned symptoms, speaking with a mental health professional can be beneficial. Our therapists at Pacific CBT are here to help! Contact us today to schedule a free 15-minute video consultation.
“Seasonal Affective Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder. Accessed 11 May 2023.
About the Author: Christian Wertman currently works as a behavior therapist in the field of applied behavior analysis. Christian received his Bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Francisco State University and has aspirations for a career in clinical psychology.