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Coping with Summer SAD: Understanding and Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is categorized as depression symptoms triggered by seasonal changes. Symptoms of SAD include feelings of sadness and depression, trouble sleeping, weight loss or gain, decreased or increased appetite, aggression, and anxiety. Typically we think of SAD starting in the colder winter months, but did you know that you can experience Seasonal Affective Disorder in the summer months too?

Person sitting on a dock

Adolescence can be especially affected by summer SAD. Disrupted schedules can cause fear of the unknown, and missing routine. Those individuals with body image issues may be dreading having to wear shorts and swimsuits. Summer brings warmer temps and heat is a common trigger for anxiety and sensory sensitivities. The lack of structure and decrease in socialization can create increased depression from loneliness, FOMO (fear of missing out with our peers), missing routine from class schedules and being bored trying to find things to do.

SAD can also trigger anxiety, OCD and trauma symptoms. Heat is a common trigger for anxiety and panic attacks. Experiencing rumination about depressive topics due to boredom could increase to obsessive thoughts that loop all day without structure. Without the distraction of classes and peers, those obsessive thoughts can spiral into compulsive actions attempting to soothe ourselves but only creating difficult compulsions to cope with.

So how do we help our kiddos struggling with symptoms? Find activities to participate in, reach out to safe friends and family members to get together, find things to look forward to, and find things to work on. Having goals and things to look forward to gives us hope and motivation for the future. Finding activities to participate in that mimic a school schedule can soothe our nervous system because it loves to be in routine. Distraction and self-soothing skills can help us stay mindful and decrease depressive or anxious thoughts. Try reading, deep breathing, meditation or yoga.

Kids camping

If you notice yourself or your child experiencing a significant change in appetite or weight, using isolation behaviors, or experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideation, contact your doctor or a local mental health counselor to check in about these symptoms. Treatment could be weekly dialectical or cognitive behavior therapy to learn coping skills, a support group to connect with others struggling with similar symptoms, or in some cases, medication management could be appropriate.

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