Ok, talking about mental health is the only way to destigmatize it and work towards a better future. So let’s go!
You’ve heard about the winter blues, right? What about the summer blues?
Even though we culturally associate this time of the year with sun, fun, and bbq, it can become draining and difficult for some people. I know because I’m one of them.
Summer blues are a form of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which is a condition that affects ~20% of the American population. To give you some background and context:
- People who suffer from SAD are sensitive to natural changes in temperature and light which can trigger mental distress.
- People who live further from the equator are more likely to experience SAD during the winter months, where those of us closer to the equator are more likely to experience it in the summer.
- In the winter, SAD usually prompts overeating, weight gain, and hypersomnia; while in the summer, SAD usually presents a decreased appetite and insomnia. Both can trigger intense depression, anxiety, irritability, and agitation.
About 10% of those who suffer from SAD experience symptoms in the summer months. While this only statistically affects a smaller part of the population, it should be noted that suicide rates are at their highest during the spring and summer months.
Reflecting on my own life, when I learned about summer SAD things began to make a lot more sense – my severest battles with depression and thoughts of suicide largely occurred between June and August.
MY MOST CHALLENGING SUMMER (IN A LONG TIME)
This year has been particularly challenging. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have intensified feelings of anxiety and encouraged (self) isolation.
Protests against racial injustice and inequality have (rightfully) dominated the media but also have left many feeling despondent and disenchanted.
Millions of people are at risk of being evicted and small business owners are looking for much-needed relief.
And much more!
All that to say, there’s a lot going on without having to battle SAD.
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE
Someone once asked me what it feels like to have anxiety? This scenario is the first thing that came to mind:
Imagine you’re going on a date with your celebrity crush, and s/he is at the restaurant waiting for you. On the way there, you get a flat. You don’t want them to think you’re standing them up: this is your ONE shot! You can’t call them because your phone’s dead and you can feel beads of sweat run down your forehead as you struggle to find a way to make it to the restaurant…
That’s me on some days when I wake up in the morning – panic-stricken from the moment I open my eyes.
And what sucks most, is it seems like everyone around me is feeling the exact opposite, enjoying summer sunshine and carefree moments with friends by “the beach.”
And here’s the usual impact for me:
My sleep is compromised, I struggle to stay on a regular eating plan with a suppressed appetite and…I’m admittedly a bit moodier than I’d like to be.
Of course, there can be more impact for others, but this is just the gist for me.
Like I said earlier, while this has been my most challenging summer in a long time, I’m definitely not throwing in the towel! There’s always hope and action!
Depression and anxiety ain’t new – they just suck – but here are 5 ways I’ve picked up along my journey to manage summer SAD to make the most of every moment!
FIVE WAYS TO BEAT SAD
1) Move to a morning exercise routine. I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand the connection between physical and mental health. Although it’s SO much harder to exercise when we feel low, that’s when it becomes MOST important to boost serotonin! We have to get the blood pumping and I feel most powerful in the morning (after I’ve fully woken up of course). So move your routine to the morning and try to get active outside to a) beat the heat, b) soak up Vitamin D and c) set the tone for the rest of the day.
2) Examine your diet. Taking stock of what (and how much of it) we’re eating or drinking when suffering from mental health problems is important. When we start down the path of medicating with food and drink, we start to cultivate behaviors that will be difficult to stop in the future. Because it may feel good in the moment, we fail to see the unhealthy habits we’re developing. For me, that’s binging before bedtime (so I can sleep), a habit that has taken YEARS to overcome.
In terms of diet, I enjoy the Mediterranean Diet, especially during the summer, since it’s full of fresh and flavorful foods that are both heart- and brain-boosting. Also, it’s flexible enough to accommodate frozen veggies and canned foods, which makes maintaining nutrition a LOT easier since there’s no prep work with those packaged FRESH foods.
3) Find ways to make life easier. Look, the day-to-day gets hard to keep up with when we’re running on next to no sleep. So find ways to remove stressors from your life wherever you can. At times, I’ll switch to using paper plates and plastic utensils because I know the dishes will pile up otherwise. Once, when I was in one of my worst states and making a very small salary, I was able to re-arrange my budget to afford to pay a housekeeper $75/month to come and take care of my place, which was immensely helpful. And all it costs me was dining out less during the month. For you, it could be finding a meal prep company. Prioritize and be smart about spending when you’re struggling mentally.
4) Set and maintain boundaries. In our personal AND professional lives, boundaries are critical for positive mental health, so it’s important to clearly define them and defend them. For example, I have a hard time “turning off” and stepping away from work. But this summer, I’ve deliberately tried to be online less often on the weekends to make sure I’m spending time on myself and taking care of my personal needs. This step back allows me to keep the focus on ME and not what’s going on around me. Comparing my life to others on social media is one of the most common traps that can lead to dissatisfaction and affect the boundaries I set for myself.
5) Be proactive. We should all have a mental health crisis reaction plan so that we have fail-safes in place to fall back on when things get hard. Calling a friend. Scheduling time with your therapist or psychiatrist. Making sure you have medication handy if/when you need it. And maybe even a few affirmations and/or prayers that you can say to remind you of your worth. I’ve got a whole playbook that includes as much or as little extra structure as I need in my day to make it through. You should, too.
Whether you experience SAD in the summer, the winter, or not at all, practice kindness.
One thing that I’ve been reminding myself to do is treat myself with grace. Be slow to criticize and/or critique how I’m responding mentally to this unprecedented time in history; while being quick to celebrate the smallest of ways I’m overcoming summer SAD on a daily basis.
So when I say “practice kindness,” that should start with ourselves. It’s difficult – some would say impossible – to show authentic compassion to others when we don’t offer the same to ourselves.
If this summer’s been a struggle for you, too, consider seeing a doctor or talking to someone you trust. Never be afraid to speak up and ask for help…because most of the time those you reach out to will appreciate your honesty and allow you more grace than you think.
Last night I got a random text from a friend. This is what it said in case you’d like to use his words:
“Something keeps telling me to check on you. Are you good?”
And just that simple text put the biggest smile on my face. Truthfully, I had been silently feeling the weight of it all recently. I don’t know how he knew, but I’m glad he checked in to find out.
Again, talking about mental health is the only way to destigmatize it and work towards a better future.
So let’s do that together:
If you’re REALLY struggling and need to talk to someone immediately, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or connect via their live chat here.
Much love and God bless!