I was born and raised in Montreal. Our brutal winters involved such charming things as frost warnings, mandatory snow tires and spending the price of a pair of Louboutins on a jacket so puffy it felt like wearing a duvet and looked even less flattering. Needless to say, I love summer. The sun, the light, the heat, you name it—I will never complain about it. So when I found out that summertime sadness was more than just the title to a rad Lana Del Rey song, I was intrigued and confused. Sun and fun, right?
We have all heard about the winter blues: how shorter, darker days and longer nights can affect one’s mood. Dr. Norman Rosenthal was the first to diagnose this as SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s most commonly treated with light therapy, regular therapy and meditation, among other things. But about 1 percent of those people experience SAD in the summer. For them, a hot summer day is about as fun a mid-winter naked walk for most of us.
People who suffer from SSAD tend to live in places where the heat can become so insufferable that going outside in the day time just isn’t an option. For instance, last August I was flown to Vegas for work. I was surprised—and disappointed—by how little time outside in the daylight I got. I was shuffled from hotel to car to office to car to restaurant to car. Locals avoided going outside at all costs; only tourists did that. People who live in places like Las Vegas and Texas commonly spend more time indoors in the summer escaping the heat than they do in winter. This leads to diminished natural light and Vitamin D, and can be disruptive to the body’s natural clock.
Speaking of circadian rhythm, summer can be a massive disruptive component on our system biologically. When the days get longer and the nights get shorter, we tend to stay up later and wake up earlier. This can lead to disruptive sleep patterns, which affects mood, energy, food cravings, ability to concentrate, and so on. So while people with WSAD tend to oversleep and overeat (hello carbs!), SSAD can have the opposite effect; not enough sleep, anxiety, under eating (hello sugar!). Of course it’s challenging to stick to the 10pm bedtime for a full 8-hour sleep, when the sun sets at 9pm and rises at 5am. In the cases of the people who live in hot places, sometimes 9pm is the best and only time they can spend outdoors because the air temperature is at its most tolerable.
Another key trigger is the stress of “summer vacation” time. Some people work very well with structure, schedules and routines. Especially for parents with kids in school or people in school or work themselves. All of a sudden there is this gap of unorganized time that is supposed to be filled doing fun, adventurous, exciting, better-than-everyone-else vacations and making everyone jealous with amazing stories. No pressure, right? Wrong. For some, that pressure is enough to send them into a dark room under the covers with a pint of non-dairy ice cream and a Netflix binge until September rolls back around.
So what are some easy solutions to combatting the summertime blues?
1 | Chill out. Literally. Keeping your body temperature as cool as possible is critical for people who tend to get overheated. This means wearing breathable fabrics, drinking lots and lots of water (and little to no caffeine or alcohol which can be heat stimulating internally). Take cold showers upon waking and several times a day to regulate, swim if it’s available.
2 | Eat cooling foods: celery, cucumber, watermelon, mint. Eat them, juice and drink them, keep them chopped up in the fridge at all times to grab and munch on. Cooling, satisfying, and hydrating. (bonus: rub those cucumber peels on your skin for a little external and extra hydration, nothing goes to waste!)
3 | Meditation: Dr. Rosenthal writes about using his TM practice to help treat SAD. Any practice where you can sit and allow the body to de-excite, release accumulated stress and balance the nervous systems will make a world of difference. It may not lower the temperatures outside, but the fallout to you may not be as damaging.
4) Pranayama: “Sitali” breath is commonly used in kundalini and other forms of yoga as a ‘cooling’ breath. Do it when you feel overheated or anxious.
5) Light; with all SAD, light is a factor. If early morning sun is disrupting your sleep cycle, invest in some blackout shades. Make sure to get outside once the air cools off though, inside diminishes vitamin D. Make sure the windows are uncovered in the day to let as much natural daylight in if you cannot be outside.
6) Prepare: If you know you are a ‘planner’, don’t let too much free time sneak up on you. Summer is a great opportunity to experience things we don’t make time for normally. Plan activities where the air is cooler like museums, aquariums, symphonies, theater. If you have the budget and time, take a trip somewhere to a cooler part of the world where the weather is different- winter in Australia happens in our summer fyi.
Whatever you try, don’t give up—even if you have to make the ultimate change up. While I may be more or a SAD winter girl, I opted to travel a lot in the chilly months and eventually moved to California where, happily, my duvet is a duvet.