Summer is finally here. The sun is shining, the days are longer, it’s the perfect recipe for a good mood. But for some people, it’s hard to keep up with the natural energy of the warmer months.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is well documented: it’s a recurring depression which usually affects people during winter, and then eases off as spring arrives.
It’s not known exactly why people might feel a seasonal depression as the weather warms up (and, of course, it’s possible that it’s different for each individual), however experts point towards a few possible theories.
Seasons add to the load
Spring is, for many, a time of happiness. People often feel they have increased energy, they want to socialise more, and achieve lots of things.
Dr John Sharp from Harvard University reports that this is the very reason behind reverse SAD. “At the same time as most of us are rolling up our sleeves and spending more time outdoors, others struggle with trying to get into that kind of mode, and counter-intuitively, they feel worse,” he told the BBC.
"If you're not being carried along with the natural energy of the season it can be really hard."
There’s a problem that comes with when we feel we ‘should’ feel a certain way.
This gap between the social norm and your own feelings can put you in a not-so-good mental place.
“There’s a problem that comes with when we feel we ‘should’ feel a certain way,” says psychologist Marny Lishman. “In spring, it’s warm and we feel like we should be getting out and about and socialising – and if you don’t feel like it, then you might start comparing yourself with others.
“If you’re comparing yourself with that and not feeling at that level, you can feel closed off and depressed.”
For people who are, perhaps, already carrying a heavy load, this difference from others can feel harder to bear.
“It’s important to try and have self awareness, self acceptance and self compassion for how you’re feeling, so that you don’t feel like you’re lacking,” Lishman says.
Environmental factors play a role
With spring comes a difficult period for those who suffer from allergies or don’t sleep well.
“Our bodies and melatonin levels can be out of whack with more daylight,” says Lishman. “This can result in not enough sleep or disrupted sleep, which means you’re not rejuvenating and recharging your body. Lack of sleep can increase feelings of depression.”
Then there’s the heat. “If you’re unable to regulate your body temperature for whatever reason, you get irritable and can’t function well,” Lishman says.
These environmental factors, including allergies, increased daylight and heat, have been linked to higher suicide rates in the warmer months of several European, North American and South American countries.
“[All of these factors] make us want to get comfortable and safe, often at home,” says Lishman, “but this can make you feel more depressed. Doing some things that will make you feel good (even if you don’t feel like it at the time) can be great; maybe inviting friends over to your air-conditioned home.
“It’s still really important to socialise, exercise and work, rather than avoid everything which can exacerbate the problem.
Dr Sharp suggests that when you know a particular season hits you hard, it can be a good idea to enlist a friend as your ‘season mentor’. This would be someone who copes well with that season, and can help you find ways to deal with it – or even enjoy some parts of it.
If you' or someone you know is in need of assistance, contact:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636