SAD is the acronym for “seasonal affective disorder,” a type of depression that typically occurs in the winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight. Most people have heard of the winter form of SAD but did you know there is also a summer version of SAD? I only recently discovered this.
My Encounters with Summer SAD
The past few weeks have been a challenge for me. I've been much more fatigued than usual and have been struggling just to function and perform minimum daily activities. Although I wouldn't go so far as to say I've been depressed, I have been feeling very discouraged and frustrated.
Then a couple of days ago it occurred to me––this is a slightly milder version of how I used to feel in August and September when I lived in Florida. I've always been sensitive to heat and my sensitivity seems to increase with age. I can still vividly remember––by August in Florida it had already been extremely hot and humid for several months and I would begin to fantasize about leaving Florida and moving to a cooler climate. By September my fantasies had me living in Alaska. I felt terrible and couldn't stand to leave my air conditioned home for even a few minutes.
Since moving back to Tennessee several years ago, my August/September feelings of desperation have mostly faded away. East Tennessee has relatively mild climate with a nearly perfect balance of all four seasons. Although summer is still uncomfortable for me, it doesn't last for most of the year as it does in Florida.
But this year has been a particularly hot summer. And the fact that my beloved dog unexpectedly passed away in June probably didn't help matters. Whatever the reasons, when I recognized those old September feelings coming back, I thought, “This sounds like SAD only it's happening in the summer instead of the winter.” At that point, I started doing some research and sure enough––there really is a summer version of SAD.
Winter SAD vs. Summer SAD
Winter SAD tends to occur more frequently in the northern latitudes where the hours of sunlight are shorter and the sun's rays are more indirect. It is thought to affect approximately 5% of the population overall. Summer SAD seems to occur more often in warmer climates and is estimated to affect only about 1% of the population.
Symptoms of winter SAD include
Symptoms of summer SAD include:
While winter SAD is thought to be related to light––specifically to a lack of sunlight, which can disrupt circadian rhythms and throw off the balance of melatonin and serotonin levels, summer SAD seems to be more related to temperature. People who are sensitive to heat are more likely to suffer with summer SAD.
The first-line medical treatment for winter SAD is light therapy. Other treatments include supplements like melatonin and vitamin D, high-density ionized air administration, and in some cases, antidepressant medication. Summer SAD is generally treated with antidepressant medications, which ideally should be started before summer begins to help lessen symptom severity. Avoiding heat should help as well.
Winter SAD in the Summer
To further confuse and complicate things, it is possible to have winter SAD in the summer. This can happen when we stay inside and limit our exposure to sunlight in an effort to avoid the heat.
This explanation seems to fit my situation best. My symptoms are much closer to those of winter SAD than summer SAD, except for the fact that they only occur in the summertime. I hibernate in air conditioning throughout the summer. When I have to go out for something like groceries, I usually go at night when it's a little cooler. So even though the days are longer, I actually get much less sunlight in the summer months.
How about you? Have you ever experienced summer SAD? Or winter SAD? If so, how do you cope with it? Have you found any treatments that help you?
Rosenthal, N. “Summertime: And the Living Ain't Easy.” Retrieved 9/30/12 from: http://normanrosenthal.com/blog/2012/07/summertime-and-the-living-aint-easy/
“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).” Mayo Clinic. September 22, 2011.