If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been assuming that SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is pretty much limited to winter. And why wouldn’t you? Short days, gloomy skies and rain are a tried and true recipe for feeling down. The thing is, most people assume that when winter passes and the sun comes out, their SAD will disappear – but what happens if it doesn’t? It can be harder to cope with negative mental health when you don’t have an obvious outside source to explain it, but summertime SAD does exist. Here’s how you deal with it:
Why do I get summertime SAD?
It can be hard to imagine feeling down when the sun is shining, the sky is blue and your days are spent free of term time pressures, but there are actually a lot of aspects of summer that have the ability to negatively effect your mental health and give you some summertime SAD.
Anyone coping with mental health issues knows that a routine is key to maintaining balance, and summer is a sure-fire way of breaking routine. As much as we complain about lectures, exams and deadlines they provide a structure that is vital to keeping us, quite literally, sane. When this structure disappears it’s easy to feel at a loss, especially if you don’t have any other commitments like a part time job or internship. Boredom is one of the worst contributors to poor mental health. Even more likely to induce boredom is going home for the summer. Not everyone has great relationships with their parents, and even if you do, the change from spontaneous nights out with your flatmates and the excitement of your Uni city, to going back to your parent’s house and getting treated like you’re 16 again is awful.
The best thing to do is make a new routine – and to keep busy. Whether that’s with a part time job or internship, visiting friends from Uni or even finding a new hobby. Do something to occupy your time.
Speaking of schedules, summer is probably screwing with your sleeping patterns too. Longer days and more light hours means less production of melatonin (I’m not doing a medical degree but basically melatonin regulates your sleep- wake cycle). Disrupted sleep is guaranteed to make you feel grumpy, irritable and depressed.
So what can you do? Sadly, you can’t control the sun like a light switch. But again, keeping busy, trying to stick to a sleep schedule (waking up and going to sleep at around the same time each day) and trying to complete some daily exercise is likely to keep you both rested and energised.
This is a huge one. Every annoying Instagram influencer on earth is posting pictures of their holiday in Bali or their trip backpacking around Thailand. Even your friends spend the whole summer dragging out their one week in Portugal posting and re-posting that by-the-pool shot captioned ‘take me back’. The point is, it seems like everyone is having a good time. And if you don’t have a holiday planned, or you’re busy working, its really easy to feel like you’re losing out. Importantly, you need to remember that it really does only seem like everyone is having a good time. It’s definitely not the case in reality. To use a cliche, don’t compare your every day to someone else’s highlight reel.
And its not just FOMO, but peer pressure, too. My favourite term for this time of year is ‘beer garden fear’- the fear that you have to go out, socialise and drink in order to feel accepted by your friends. With everyone swarming like flies to the nearest beer garden (complete with dodgy shorts and sunglasses) it can be incredibly hard for people with social anxiety, or people who struggle with drinking, to have a good time.
The most important thing to remember is that you should only ever do what makes you happy. No one is really going to care if you order non-alcoholic beer (and if they do, they’re not your friends), no one will hate you if you skip on the pool party, and everyone is dealing with their own problems – no matter how happy they might seem.
Body image issues
On a similar note, there’s nothing like the sun coming out to make you feel like you should immediately shed all of your clothes and walk around like Emily Ratajkowski at Coachella. For people with scars, eating disorders or body image issues this is, in a word, terrifying. I’ve written a whole article on why you shouldn’t let your insecurities stop you enjoying the sun (which you can see here) but in essence: wear whatever the hell you want.
So, what to do with your Summertime SAD?
Coping with your mental health is going to be the same no matter what time of year it is. The important thing to remember is that feeling down in summer doesn’t make you odd or broken – just because the sun is shining, you’re not obliged to smile.
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