We’ve all heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And when we do, it’s about people who get sad on winter days because the sun is hiding and it’s cold and dreary outside, so we coop up at home. Many of us have a friend (or it could be you) who can’t even get out of bed and function properly, with a gloomy cloud hanging over their head.
But there’s a small number of us who go through depression in the summer. This too, is classified as SAD. You ask, why the heck would people be sad when the sunny days are longer, it’s warm outside, and people are generally happy-drinking, eating fantastic ice-cream and hanging out with friends and families?
I struggle with summer depression. When I wake up in the morning, even though it’s only 7 am the sun is shining so brightly that it makes me want to go back to bed (I need blackout curtains). On weekends, I know I should be outside running, lazing in a park or engaging in some jock-infested sport like water-skiing. But I have a sun allergy and sunburns are just not worth it (if I have to go outside I make sure I use a lot of good quality sunblock). I need to stay inside and revel in my air-conditioned apartment.
After doing some reading, I discovered there are many reasons why people go through summer sadness. Some of them include a different schedule than your usual routine in the fall and winter, the heat, the pressure to look good in swimming attire and spending a lot more money than usual because it’s a social time of year. In other words, they all lead to stress.
Summer days here in Toronto are very long. Usually, as it gets darker the body starts to produce melatonin. This prepares us for the impending dark and eventually, sleep. But in the summer, melatonin production happens later and therefore our bodies respond later (sometimes as late as 10 pm). This means I can’t sleep at my regularly prescribed time. When I get less sleep, my mental health is affected, which messes with my mood the next day. Ever have that groggy feeling in the morning if you haven’t had your coffee yet? That persists throughout the whole day for people with summer depression if they haven’t had enough sleep.
There is also a personal, historical reason why I experience summer depression. When I was a child, we did nothing in the summer. I didn’t see my friends regularly as I did during the school year, had no routine (children need consistent stability), and it was so hot where I grew up in the Middle East, that going outside during the day was out of the question (my uncle cracked an egg on the hood of a car on a sunny day and forty-five minutes later, it was baked. I kid you not). So I got used to staying inside, mostly twiddling my thumbs and daydreaming (this probably awakened my desire to be a writer, so that’s a positive).
Summer is also a season when connections are fleeting. People adopt a lacks-a-daisy approach to life. I enjoy random chats with strangers because I strive to meet people outside my small social bubble. But the loud distractions of a bar nearby, or a call from friends to meet at the beach doesn’t motivate me to invest in a promising good connection. I have many contacts on my phone of people who made empty promises to meet and sadly, never followed through, even though I initiated the first contact.
A romantic connection that fizzles closer to the end of August is attributed to fling fever. There’s a reason why they call autumn cuffing season — single people want to pair up just before the world goes back into hibernation. The distractions of summer don’t really allow for building a strong relationship.
Personal Endeavours on Coping
One summer I baked to keep myself distracted. I baked so much everything from classic chocolate-chip cookies to pineapple cookies. By the way, this was back in 1996 when there was no internet, so the only thing I had was cookbooks. Remember those? Classic relics. Looking back, you could say boredom sparked much of my creativity as a teen.
I visit new places because newness always excites me. Travel–and I make this distinction from vacationing–is a wonderful antidote. With travel you explore, with vacations you, well, vacate. Travel also appeases the child in me that felt left out. When two of my best childhood friends went to Cyprus without me, they brought amazing memories back that I could not partake in reminiscing. As a kid my family couldn’t go away to exotic places regularly so I felt like everyone was enjoying their summer but me. It gave me this feeling that people were hanging out without me.
In my subsequent years of experimentation, I came up with other ways to combat summer depression. It’s in the little activities, I find.
- Walk across my wooden floors and feel the bottoms of my feet cool.
- Sitting on my couch– which is strategically under my air-conditioning vent. I love the cool air flowing down to the top of my head after a long walk in the humidity.
- Sitting on patios with friends closer to early evening when the sun’s rays aren’t harsh.
- Sunset walks in my neighbourhood when I can take photos in the most beautiful light.
- Do whatever I want. If this means curling up with a book in my cool apartment or going to the mall to avoid the outdoor heat then so be it.
- Bubble tea. Always.
My summer depression isn’t so bad that I go into unmanageable episodes like many people with clinical depression. It’s more of a low-humming melancholy that I carry throughout the season.
I casually glance at my calendar until I feel the thundering energetic surge right after Labour day, when September arrives in full swing. I think one of the reasons why Vogue’s September issue sells the most copies, is because people are back living their real lives. Falling in step with fall (pun intended) is when I return with vitality.
Have you ever experienced summer depression? What was it like for you? How did you cope? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.