Summer Onset Seasonal Affective Disorder & Your Health
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to a change in seasons. It usually begins and ends around the same time each year, beginning in fall and continuing throughout the winter months. While most cases manifest in these colder months, a percentage of those with SAD experience a summer onset. Symptoms of summer SAD can be the opposite of winter-onset SAD. In warmer months, people tend to experience sleep loss, weight and appetite loss, agitation, and increased anxiety.
Who is affected by SAD?
This form of depression in four times more common in women than men, but 10 million people in the United States experience this form of depression. It most commonly occurs in people between the ages of 18 and 30 and is more prevalent in locations that are further away from the equator with colder climates, or areas that are often cloudy.
What causes SAD?
The effects of limited sun exposure are the main culprits, so what causes summer SAD during the time of the year when many people are out and about enjoying the warmer weather and excited about vacation? There isn’t a definite answer, rather ideas about what may cause downward shifts in mood. In an interview with Quartz, psychiatrist and early SAD identifier Norman Rosenthal suggested that those with summer SAD have trouble transitioning and adapting to season changes. Other factors he suggested include:
- Body image and the anxiety of wearing less clothing (e.g. bathing suit); this can also lead to isolation from social situations
- Feeling bad because everyone else seems happier when spring and summer come along
- Feeling pressure to be more sociable in warmer months (During the winter, there’s more comfort in knowing that many people spend time indoors)
- The heat of summer itself; some people don’t like hot weather because it’s uncomfortable
Changes in routine can also be a factor in summer SAD. Establishing a routine is important if you have depression. It helps keep you on track with goals that give you a sense of accomplishment and favor your overall health. During the summer, however, schedules can become less normal and varied affected by things like vacation or later nights from enjoying the weather outside.
Can I cure my SAD?
While there’s no cure to SAD, there are things that may help alleviate symptoms. Francine Martinez, Ph.D. of TherapyChanges.com suggests 20 minutes of sunlight a day, daily exercise, dietary changes that promote metabolism increase and add essential nutrients, human interaction, or meeting with a mental health professional may be helpful for balancing out your mood.
In terms of beneficial nutrients, there are also dietary supplements that have been proven to help with mood disorders. Market America Senior Scientific Researcher Crystal Shelton suggests five natural supplements based on research studies that may be beneficial.
- John’s Wort.
Compared to other natural products, St. John’s wort is extremely well-researched, and clinical studies have shown significant improvements in anxiety, insomnia, and poor mood.
An essential amino acid known for increasing levels of serotonin in the brain, this supplement acts as a precursor for serotonin which is known to enhance mood and improve feelings of anxiety, aggression, and impulsiveness. Tryptophan also functions as a precursor for the production of melatonin, which helps promote restful sleep, improve mood and facilitate many other nervous system processes in the body.
- B vitamins.
These vitamins can have effects on the nervous system’s health which can affect mood and emotional health. Shelton stated that folic acid (B9) and vitamin B6 are required for the production of serotonin; deficiency in B12 can lead to mood swings and other mood issues, and deficiency in folic acid is common among patients with depression.
Shelton said that studies show L-Theanine promotes relaxing effects and feelings of tranquility because it stimulates relaxing alpha waves in the brain.
- Omega-3 fatty acids.
These fatty acids have clinically demonstrated benefits for mood and mental health. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) was found to have positive effects for both mood and stress, and another omega-3 fatty acid called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) has also been shown in studies to be a source for improving symptoms of major depression.
Please note that these products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Also, some supplements may pose some contraindications for certain drugs and may not be for everyone. Check with your healthcare practitioner before using any new dietary supplement.