Monday, August 22, 2011

Hot Summer Days Got You Down?

 We are in the midst of another heat wave in Houston as we are braving another hot summer.  For many, being outside during this time can be torture – not just physical, but also mental.  The common expectation is to be happy and outdoorsy in the summer, attending barbeques and other outdoor events.  However, you may find yourself feeling actually more depressed and irritable these days.

You may have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that affects people in colder climates during winter months when days get shorter and colder.  It is connected with less exposure to sunlight.  What few people know is that there is a summer version of SAD. It is actually more common in the Southern United States and in countries near the equator. Like winter SAD, summer SAD affects primarily women in their 20s to 40s.

Summer SAD is thought to be related to increases in temperature and light, along with decreases in the brain’s production of melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep. Other hypothetical causes include fluctuations in barometric pressure and physical difficulty with regulating body temperature.  Individuals who are naturally sensitive to light and heat may be more vulnerable.

The primary symptoms of summer SAD are the following:
  • Poor or increased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased irritability and/or agitation
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Increased or decreased sex drive
  • Loss of interest in your usual activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
If you think you might suffer from summer seasonal affective disorder, here are some recommendations.

Limit your exposure to heat. Stay indoors in air conditioning.  Plan some indoor social activities (for example, game night).  Some people with extreme forms of summer SAD prefer windowless rooms and using ice packs to cool down their body, especially at night.

Get enough sleep. Make sure your sleeping quarters have a consistent cool temperature.

Eat light meals and keep a regular exercise schedule.  Stick to indoor exercise during extreme heat.

Plan your vacation in a cooler climate, if possible. 

Wear Polarized Sunglasses.  This is important for everyone, but especially light skinned and blue-eyed people.  For some, wearing these types of glasses already translates to mild to moderate mood boost.

Recognize you are not alone! The difference between what we think we “should” feel in the summer (energetic, happy, carefree) and what we may actually feel (anxious, bored, uncomfortable) can alone lead to feelings of irritability and depression. Remember, even though it may seem as if everyone else is having a wonderful time frolicking in the sun, many people are not and are coping with some of the same concerns as you!  

Recognize there is help.  If you are having suicidal thoughts or have been struggling for more than two weeks with the symptoms listed above, get help from a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional.

I am a Houston psychologist specializing in depressive disorders such as SAD.  Call me for a free consultation at 713-364-8328 or visit for more information on my services.