Thoughtful woman in the park

How to Manage Summer Mood Disorders

An estimated 10 million Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal mood disorder. It’s a type of depression that occurs during a specific season, consecutively, for two or more years. Most people develop symptoms in late fall and early winter due to the sudden decrease in daylight. Although it’s less common, some can also experience symptoms in the warmer months.

Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Short winter days can trigger a change in the brain, similar to the hibernation response in animals. This process alters the amount of melatonin the body produces, which causes drowsiness and increases appetite. In the summer, too much sun can suppress melatonin production, which can lead to disrupted sleep patterns. Symptoms that appear in late spring or early summer may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble concentrating, racing thoughts or jumping from one task to another
  • Weight loss

For some people, it is possible to have SAD symptoms and depression at the same time. This can make a an individual short-tempered, fidgety and highly irritable.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed the way society operates. Social distancing is now a priority, and close contact is no longer the norm. This along with self-isolation has led to a rise in several mental health issues including stress, anxiety and depression. These conditions can be made worse with symptoms of a seasonal mood disorder. Depending on severity and the person’s own history, a variety of treatment options are available:

  • Aromatherapy: Add a couple drops of essential oils like lavender or roman chamomile to your bath, pillow or pulse points. You can also use an oil diffuser to fill the room with fragrance for a maximum calming effect.
  • Exercise: Exercise can provide both mental and physical health benefits. Not only can it improve heart function, build muscle and strengthen bones, it can also trigger the release of endorphins—the body’s “feel-good chemicals.” This helps to manage blood pressure, boost mood and increase energy throughout the day.
  • Healthy Diet: Avoid sugary, high calorie foods with little to no nutritional value. Consume leafy greens, fish, nuts and seeds that contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may help ease depression symptoms.
  • Medication: Moderate to severe symptoms may require medication. A doctor can prescribe an antidepressant, such as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Before taking any drugs, ask about potential benefits and side effects that may occur.
  • Psychotherapy: A mental health professional may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a viable treatment. It’s a form of psychotherapy that focuses on a person’s thoughts, feelings and actions. Together, the patient and provider can identify negative patterns and eliminate toxic behaviors that are a danger to one’s self and others. Social rhythm therapy may also be an option, as it can help regulate many biological processes.

About the Author: William Beecroft, M.D., D.L.F.A.P.A., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

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