The Healthy Cog: Tips for the Summertime Blues

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC
Psychotherapist

The Summertime Blues?

Seriously? The answer is, yes, and more often than you might think. The kids are out of school and have only two questions on their minds, “Can we go to the pool now?” and “What can I eat next?” Your lawn has taken on a creepy “I will be overgrown regardless of what you do to me” attitude. Your neighbors ask “is it hot enough for you?” at least twice a day.  And if you hear one more person inquire about your family vacation plans, you will run over their GPS with your lawn tractor (should it decide to start today).

The heat is oppressive, the air conditioner is working overtime to make sure your electric bill is equal to the national debt and your kids are home for 90 consecutive days. In short, you’re miserable.

Ian A. Cook, MD, the director of the Depression Research Program at UCLA discusses five causes of summer depression in an article published by WebMD:

1. Summertime SAD.

You’ve probably heard about seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which affects about 4% to 6% of the U.S. population. SAD typically causes depression as the days get shorter and colder. But about 10% of people with SAD get it in the reverse — the onset of summer triggers their depression symptoms. Cook notes that some studies have found that in countries near the equator – like India – summer SAD is more common than winter SAD.

2. Disrupted schedules in summer.

If you’ve experienced depression before, you probably know that having a reliable routine is beneficial for keeping symptoms in check. But during the summer, routine goes out the window — and that disruption can be stressful, Cook says. If you have children in school, you’re suddenly faced with the prospect of keeping them occupied all day, every day. If your kids are in college, you may suddenly find them — and all their boxes of stuff — back in the house after a nine-month absence. Vacations can disrupt your work, sleep, and eating habits — all of which can all contribute to summer depression.

3. Body image issues.

As the temperature climbs and the layers of clothing fall away, a lot of people feel terribly self-conscious about their bodies, says Cook. Feeling embarrassed in shorts or a bathing suit can make life awkward, not to mention hot. Since so many summertime gatherings revolve around beaches and pools, some people start avoiding social situations out of embarrassment.

4. Financial worries.

Summers can be expensive. There’s the vacation, of course. And if you’re a working parent, you may have to fork over a lot of money to daycare, summer camps or babysitters to keep your kids occupied while you’re on the job. The expenses can add to a feeling of summer depression

5. The heat.

Lots of people relish the sweltering heat. They love baking on a beach all day. But for the people who don’t, summer heat can become truly oppressive. You may start spending every weekend hiding out in your air-conditioned bedroom, watching pay-per-view until your eyes ache. You may begin to skip your usual before-dinner walks because of the humidity. You may rely on unhealthy takeout because it’s just too stifling to cook. Any of these things can contribute to summer depression.

So what can you do about the summertime blues?

1. Get on a schedule.

A month or so before school ends for the year, get out your calendar and start marking it up. The kids will go to this camp during this week. I will be able to work from 8 to 3 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I will swim in the morning on these days. You get the point.

2. Plan something fun.

It doesn’t have to be expensive. Plan something enjoyable every few weeks to keep motivated and moving forward. Something that could give an ounce of joy can carry you through many hot summer afternoons.

3. Sleep.

It’s important to maintain a steady sleep schedule in the summer. That is, even though the day’s events are changing from week to week, make sure to keep your sleep schedule the same: go to bed at the same time every night, wake up at the same time every morning, and don’t sleep much less than 7 hours and no more than 9 hours a night. When depressed, it’s common to want to sleep as much as you can, to kill the hours. However, extra sleep does increase depression.

4. Exercise.

During the summer months, it’s easy to abandon any exercise program that you’ve been disciplined enough to start since the oppressive heat can be dangerous, if not terribly unappealing. So before the heat sets in, design a plan you can stick with that won’t make you stick to everything else. I run early in the morning during the summer, before the humidity sets in, and I try to swim more often.

5. Be around people.

As tempting as it is to isolate during the summer, forcing yourself to be around people — even if you don’t join the discussion — is going to assist your mood and especially the ruminations that get your into trouble. If you don’t want to leave your air-conditioned home, at least make yourself call one person — a sibling, friend, or co-worker — to stay connected to the world.

6. Stay Hydrated

This seems like a no-brainer, but dehydration occurs more often than you think. Avoid caffeinated sodas, coffee, teas, and sugary sports drinks. H20 is the way to go. It boosts your immune system by flushing out toxins and promotes balance in your bodies chemistry.