Healthy Mind

Fighting the summertime blues

Written by James Combs

Summer doesn’t sizzle with excitement for everybody.

Story: James Combs

For many people, summertime means fun in the sun. It’s a time to break out the pool floats and cool boats and enjoy sandy beaches and outdoor barbecues.

Everyone seems happy and chipper.

Well, not quite everybody. For some, the scorching Florida summer sun and the draining humidity are big downers. These people rarely venture outside and spend most of their time in isolation.

This condition has a name: summer-onset seasonal affective disorder. It’s a mood disorder that easily can trigger depression, according to Dr. Chrisann Reid, a licensed psychotherapist with Lake County-based Central Florida Counseling and Psychological Services.

“Many people associate seasonal affective disorder with winter, but some people actually experience it in the summer,” she says. “In the winter, these people feel happy, invigorated, and energized. In the summer, they feel manic and lethargic.”

Healthy Living recently sat down with Dr. Reid to learn more about this condition, which is diagnosed four times more often in women than men, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

HL: The summer months are supposed to be about fun in the sun. That’s not true for everybody. Some might be agitated by disrupted summertime schedules, have body image issues, or worry about finances because of vacation. What is the main reason why people develop the summertime blues?

CR: With the clients I serve, it’s mostly because of the heat and humidity. Of course, you have to remember that the majority of clients I see are the older population. That said, heat and humidity can affect people of all ages because the bodies of some people simply do not cool well in the heat. They may be active and athletic, but in the summertime, they cannot handle the temperature and thus tend to limit their exercise and stay inside more. The minute you start doing that, you no longer feel very well. Not only are they no longer exercising, they are limiting their social connectedness because they are inside. And to make matters worse, the sun is out in the summertime from about 7am to 8pm. Therefore, the days seem longer, which can intensify sadness and depression. 

HL: What if these people already suffer from sadness, anxiety, or depression? 

CR: If they have a predisposition toward depression, then the more you isolate, the more likely you are to increase those depression symptoms. It can become a vicious cycle. 

HL: What are the symptoms of the summertime blues?

CR: Sadness, hopelessness, guilt, change in sleeping habits, and weight gain. They also experience diminished interest or pleasure in all or most activities. You have to understand that they’ve changed their behavioral patterns and exercise patterns when they’re confined indoors. Exercise helps release endorphins, which naturally lift your mood. When you’ve suddenly cut that out, it can throw your body into a mild depressive state.  

HL: When you look at Facebook during summertime, you see that everybody posts pictures of themselves at the beach, out on a boat, and so on. Should people experiencing summertime blues limit time spent on social media?

CR: I would recommend stopping any activity that increases your depression.

HL: For people who experience the summertime blues, is it intensified by knowing or thinking everyone else is having a great time?

CR: It could be. When you’re sitting in an air-conditioned room when it’s sunny and you see people outside, you begin asking, ‘What’s wrong with me? It looks beautiful outside. I should be out there.’ But in actuality, they are staying inside, gaining weight, and becoming sluggish. They begin beating themselves up a little bit. They need to remember that there are many people who do not exercise outdoors as much during summer. They’re not alone, and everybody feels a little better about themselves when they realize they are not alone. 

HL: What can people do to overcome the summertime blues?

CR: Join a gym. Some gyms offer a three-month special, so you can join a gym just to get past the summer months. This allows them to be active again and release those endorphins. It also creates social connections because you’re out among other people. You can also go bowling, invite a friend to a movie, or meet someone for lunch. Don’t isolate yourself socially just because it’s hot outside. I also tell clients to visit their family members up north during the summertime. They may find themselves doing more outdoor activities up north because it gets cooler at night.  Then they realize it’s the Florida heat that is slowing them down rather than old age. 

HL: For those who stay in Florida, do you recommend going outside at all?

CR: Sure. If they want to try golfing, then go at about 6pm. You still have two hours of daylight left. Or you could go for a short walk during that same time because the heat isn’t as intense as it is earlier in the day. 

About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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