No season gets better press than summer. The livin’ is easy, school’s out for it, and Demi Lovato is cool for it. Even Shakespeare waxed poetic while sweating in his Elizabethan doublet centuries before the invention of air conditioning: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
But summer doesn’t mean fun in the sun for everyone. Some people become sick as a result of the arrival of summer. This condition is known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Most recently, it’s referred to as major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal pattern.
Seasonal affective disorder comes with the apt acronym SAD. Does that mean this disorder is SO SAD? Let’s find out more.
What is seasonal affective disorder, or MDD with seasonal pattern?
Most cases are related to winter, when days are shorter, nights are longer, and the cold keeps people holed up indoors instead of outside, absorbing sunlight. This can result in lethargy, sadness, and the feeling that you’ll never be warm or see the sun again.
Why this happens to the 5 percent of American adults with SAD isn’t fully understood.
Most evidence points to decreased sunlight affecting our circadian rhythm. This is the 24-hour cycle that drives your sleep-wake schedule and drops serotonin levels. Serotonin is the brain chemical that affects mood.
People who experience SAD during winter tend to feel listless and gloomy, and experience changes in sleeping and eating patterns. People with MDD with seasonal pattern have reported experiencing insomnia, loss of appetite and agitation or anxiousness.
Because sunlight is believed to be the key to MDD with seasonal pattern, it’s thought that cases that occur during the summer months may result from too much sun.
Too much sunlight turns off melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that drives your sleep-wake cycle. Even turning on the light in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom is enough to pause its production. Longer days mean fewer hours at your body’s melatonin factory.
In addition to all that endless, blinding sun disrupting your circadian rhythm, the summer heat has been found to make those living with MDD with seasonal pattern anxious and angry.
However, this anger is not your typical “Why is the air-conditioning not working?” rant. It’s more than a flaring temper during an oppressive heat wave.
Certain people are more likely to have both kinds of SAD. Risk factors include:
- Being a woman. Females are affected by MDD with seasonal pattern more often than males, but men report more severe symptoms.
- Having a relative with MDD-SP. Like other mood disorders, there seems to be a genetic component to MDD-SP.
- Living closer to the equator. According to an early
study, research showed that people in hotter areas have more summer MDD-SP in comparison to those living in areas with cooler temperatures.
- Having bipolar disorder. People who have bipolar disorder may experience more sensitivity to the symptoms of MDD with seasonal pattern as the seasons change.
There are many treatments for MDD-SP, ranging from access to air-conditioned locations to antidepressants. Treatment methods include:
- Seeking dark rooms: The proposed process of summer-onset MDD with seasonal pattern is connected to sunlight, which is the opposite of winter MDD with seasonal pattern. This may indicate that the preferred environment would also be different. Instead of light therapy, people who have summer-onset MDD with seasonal pattern may be advised to spend more time in darkened rooms. Although timing of light exposure during the day may be important for successful treatment.
- Finding that AC: Avoid an increase in your utility bill by taking in as many movies as possible. Movie theaters are dark, which is a plus. Their thermostats always seem to be set to the coldest temperature possible. Be sure to bring a sweater.
- Getting help: Talking it out with a healthcare provider can help you manage stress, find healthy coping strategies, and learn how to stay positive. It can also help you manage the FOMO — or fear of missing out — you might feel when your friends are talking about activities and experiences they’re enjoying.