Mind & Body

Feeling the summertime blues? It could be Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder


You’ve heard of the winter blues; that heavy, melancholy that comes with rain, the cold, and short days. But the same seasonal depression can impact the summertime, too. We spoke to clinical psychotherapist Dan Auerbach to explain. 

Some of my favourite childhood memories, the ones that see a smile appear on my face without me even realising, are those of my summers. The long, warm days spent at the beach, bodyboarding for hours in the ocean’s waves, exploring rock pools and building sandcastles on one of nature’s greatest playgrounds.

Even now, as an adult, there is just that something about summer that makes me happy (perhaps it’s less time at work and more time to relax with a good book). While many people feel this summertime joy like me, there are others that feel the opposite, where the summer months bring with them feelings of anxiety and depression, a condition called Summertime Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Dan Auerbach, clinical psychotherapist with Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney explains that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition where a person has recurrent depressive or manic episodes that coincide with the seasons.

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And while SAD typically occurs within the colder months—attributed to reduced daylight hours and impacted melatonin production—it can happen during the summer period as well.

“The onset of seasonal depression typically occurs in the colder months, particularly in higher northern latitudes with very few daylight hours in the winter,” Auerbach explains.

“However, a small percentage of people who experience SAD report that their mood disturbances coincide with summertime and ease in autumn and winter. This is often referred to as Reverse SAD.”

With Reverse SAD though, “it’s likely that social and societal pressures are more critical.”

Auerbach attributes this to many factors: the pressure to have a ‘beach body’, the endless eating and drinking throughout the festive season, which can be triggering for those who struggle with body image, and the unrealistic expectations we often set for ourselves at the dawn of a new year.

“For many people it’s an extremely stressful and emotionally exhausting time of year. For others, it can be deeply lonely,” he says.

So, how do you tell if you are experiencing Reverse SAD or if it’s something else?

“If a decline in someone’s mental health regularly coincides with a change in season, it may be worth investigating SAD, but it can also help to track whether or not there are other factors contributing to your mood that coincide with the change in season,” he says.

The symptoms of SAD are generally the same as depression or anxiety, including:

•An increased or decreased appetite.

•Changes to sleep pattern.

•Low mood.

•Anxiety.

•Agitation.

•Feelings of hopelessness.

He adds: “The distinguishing feature of SAD is the pattern of onset and remission, which is specifically linked to the seasons.”

Could you be experiencing Reverse SAD?

If you are feeling one, or more than one of these symptoms, or are concerned at all that you may be experiencing Reverse SAD you should speak with a mental health professional.

“A professional will be able to help determine if what they’re experiencing is related to the seasons specifically or if something else, such as family conflict at Christmas, is causing episodes of depression each summer,” Auerbach says.

“If the underlying cause is more physiological, for example, lack of sleep, irritability or claustrophobia from extreme heat, then making environmental changes should help.”

Those could mean exercising indoors out of the sun, installing fans or air conditioning at home, avoiding taking substances that could impact your sleep, and perhaps introducing mediation or other relaxing techniques.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.