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Barbeques and trips to the beach do absolutely nothing for me.
Picnics in the park, wearing sandals, and long daylight hours are a thorn in my side too. And don’t even get me started on sunbathing and the sound of birdsong at 4 a.m.
But I’m not a miserable human being—far from it—I have the symptoms of Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, meaning that I feel super blue in the summer before fully embracing the colder months (before and after the festive season).
I’m always happy to swap mosquitoes, hay fever, and constant sweating for the crunching of leaves, twinkling fairy lights, and evenings in front of the fire.
And I love the blank canvas that January brings when I can look ahead to the new year and wonder what it will bring.
Understanding seasonal affective disorders.
So, what is reverse SAD? Essentially, it’s feeling low during the summer and then regaining a spring in your step when winter arrives.
You might have heard of the more common Seasonal Affective Disorder that affects approximately six percent of Americans during winter when they’re missing the sunnier promises of spring and summer.
SAD is now officially regarded as a major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern.
The condition is triggered by a change in our biological clocks, melatonin production, and our serotonin levels, all of which significantly impact our mood and behavior. As a result, the lack of sunlight can wreak havoc on our bodies, prompting symptoms including weight gain, fatigue, anxiety, social withdrawal, and even headaches.
These can be so severe that some people experiencing SAD will even turn to self-harm.
Why does reverse seasonal affective disorder occur?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, winter SAD is the most common form of the disorder but around one in ten of those affected experience reverse seasonal affective disorder.
For this much smaller group of people, the darker days and colder weather can help to improve mood and even increase energy levels until spring arrives and there is a drop in mood.
Much less is known about this version of SAD, but experts believe that too much sunlight in summer can create irregularities in melatonin production. It’s also possible that people tend to get less sleep in the summer, disrupting their natural circadian rhythms.
High temperatures are also problematic for people who suffer from reverse SAD, so those who don’t like summer might feel more manic during the warmer season.
Professor Norman Rosenthal, a Georgetown psychiatrist who coined the phrase “seasonal affective disorder,” explains: “The drop in temperature can be calming for those people, who might otherwise find the summer heat oppressive and agitating.”
Unfortunately, with a lack of awareness, many patients presenting with mood-related symptoms during summer may be incorrectly diagnosed with depression or anxiety. The key is to look for the seasonal pattern based on when our symptoms started this year and whether we felt the same at a similar point last year.
The knowledge that our mood change may be temporary and related to the season could be enough to see us through to the colder months.
Managing summer SAD centers around finding ways to deal with light, heat, and allergies, so the following may be helpful:
>> Sleeping in a darkened room or use blackout blinds. Try to keep the window closed to prevent any light from seeping in.
>> We can limit time spent outdoors if the sunlight bothers us by finding ways to hang inside, dining at a restaurant, or going to the cinema to cool down on hot days. When we’re out and about, look for shady places and spend time in cool, dark rooms as it may also help relieve symptoms.
>> Get plenty of exercise even in hot weather. It’s important to stay fit to elevate our mood and relieve stress. A calming yoga session or lifting weights will help regulate our hormones and fill our bodies with feel-good endorphins.
>> Find ways to socialize. People with reverse SAD may experience FOMO (fear of missing out) or feel anxious that they’re actively avoiding meeting friends during the summer. If activities such as outdoor concerts or picnics exacerbate symptoms, then we need to take the time to explain how we feel to our friends and family. We’ll stay in touch with our support network by arranging meetups that we’re comfortable with, such as dinner dates, shopping trips, or going bowling, which is crucial when we’re feeling low.
Remember that help is always available if we’re experiencing any mood change. Staying in touch with our doctor to discuss treatment options for SAD or reverse SAD, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and SSRIs, may be helpful to our mood.