Could Your Summer Blues Be Seasonal Depression?

US News

While everyone else is taking it easy this summer ...

You can't sleep. While they're having fun in the sun, you're feeling restless. While they're chowing down on summer barbecue staples, you're not feeling hungry. What gives? You may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder -- the same kind of depression that disrupts many people's lives in the winter. To help you feel better, U.S. News turned to Norman Rosenthal, the leading expert on SAD and author of "Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder."

What does summer depression feel like?

While the winter blues typically make folks lethargic and prone to gingerbread binges, the effects of summer depression are the opposite. People tend to lose their appetite and thus, sometimes, lose weight. They may also feel agitated and struggle to sleep. Rosenthal says that in some ways, summer SAD is more dangerous than the winter version, because these folks are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

What's to blame?

Experts aren't sure why summer affects people in these ways, Rosenthal says, but there seems to be three ways the season triggers symptoms. For some people, it's exposure to excessive sunlight, for others, it's intense heat and for a third group, it's their "abnormal daily body rhythms" in the summertime, Rosenthal says. Note which of these scenarios triggers your symptoms, and you can treat your summer SAD accordingly.

If sunlight is your trigger ...

Avoid it! It's as simple as that. Wearing dark sunglasses outside is a must, and the kind that shade your peripheral vision may be particularly helpful. Seek shade when you're outside, and consider light-blocking curtains for inside.

If heat is your trigger ...

Stay inside when you can, given that air conditioning will be your best friend this summer. Try taking cold showers and baths, Rosenthal suggests, or treat yourself to a vacation up North. Maine is beautiful this time of year, right?

If out-of-whack body rhythms are your trigger ...

"A very short burst of light early in the morning can be very good for those whose rhythms are a little out of line," says Rosenthal, referring to the circadian biological clock that helps regulate the times we feel sleepy and alert. So when you wake up, step out into the sunshine for about 30 seconds.

Give these coping strategies about a week.

You're wearing the sunglasses. You're staying inside. You're getting the short burst of sunlight if you need it. Try hard to incorporate these behavioral changes into your routine, and chances are you'll feel better. But if a week goes by and you're not feeling better, see your primary care doctor or a mental health professional if you're already seeing one. "Early help goes further and quicker than help down the line," Rosenthal says.

Or, in some cases, get help sooner.

"When the stakes are high, don't wait," Rosenthal says. If you're feeling suicidal, stop whatever destructive actions you have in mind and call someone who can help, such as a doctor or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Don't wait a week, either, if your depression is affecting your work or relationships. Call a doctor. You may be connected with a psychiatrist, who can discuss medication options.

Laura McMullen is a Health + Wellness reporter at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google+ or email her at lmcmullen@usnews.com.

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