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Signs of summer depression
July 24, 2014, 1:44 pm

It's summertime, and the livin' is easy. At least that's what you've been led to believe based on songs and film—and your friends' Facebook pages. But for some, summer isn't quite the funfest it's cracked up to be.

In fact, it turns out plenty of people don't find bliss during summer. The hot, bright, long days turn them into gigantic grump buckets or make them genuinely sick. From vacation envy and arm-flab anxiety to actual summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, here's what may be dragging you down during the dog days of summer.

Summer-onset SAD: If circadian rhythms are messed up it can mean trouble—even if it's just a few less (or more) hours of sun each day. Summer SAD (Seasonal affective disorder) shows up as agitation rather than winter's lethargy. If you're not yourself and are too jittery to eat, sleep, or follow your usual routines, you may want to talk to your doctor about SAD.

The expectation gap:  If you build up something up in your mind—whether vacations or even the first bite of mac ‘n’ cheese— there can be a little disconnect between your expectation and reality. That "gap" can cause minor disappointment, major stress, or even depression—especially if you feel you're the only one who's not having as much fun as expected.

Summer is no different. Expect perfection and you're bound to be bummed. Instead, be ready for rain on picnic day or lines at Disney World and you'll be pleasantly surprised if the day goes smoothly. Your attitude and ability to go with the flow have a lot to do with how much the "gap" will throw you. If reality is consistently getting you down, see a doctor.

That over-amped feeling: Life seems more animated in the summer—kids shriek, crowds bustle—even the clothes are louder! The cacophony can make you anxious if you're already on overload or you need your quiet time. The solution is to map your summer days and weeks so that you have plenty of quiet time built in. Intersperse higher-octane activities with lower-key ones. Leave time to wind down every night and limit caffeine, electronics, and distractions; focus on calming the noise inside and outside your body.

Your screwed-up sleep:  Long sunlit days can mean you get up earlier and stay up later—a recipe for sleep deprivation, which is more common in summer than any other time of the year. Your body releases more of the stress hormone, cortisol, when you're sleep-deprived, which can contribute to depression. It can also increase emotional sensitivity.

Disappearing 'me' time: Admit it, me-time is the only thing that saves your sanity on most crazy-busy days. And summer can do a major number on it as schedules are warped and commitments pile on. If you have kids, share childcare or chauffeuring responsibilities with other parents so you have time to do your stress-relieving workout early in the day. Use some vacation days just for yourself—to take a solo bike ride or simply sit in a cool, dark place blissfully alone. This is preventive mental health care at its best.

All those slackers: If you're in charge of getting things done at work and half the office is out on vacation and you're not, you feel frustrated and angry. Don't throw a pity party or make yourself sick with stress, take a vacation yourself! It's easy to feel put-upon when you're carrying the load for someone else, but they'll be there for you when it's your turn. And be sure to take your turn as vacation-takers are healthier.

Body-image blues: If you're already a bit uncomfortable with your body and more than half of us aren't that thrilled with certain body parts, skimpy, warm-weather fashion attire may send you running for cover. Given the unrealistic media expectations of how we're supposed to look, it's not surprising that body image is a depression trigger for women in the summer. But instead of feeling bad about it, focus on being the best possible version of yourself. Find summer clothes that flatter the parts of your body you like best and camouflage the parts you don't.

Money is tight:  Summer can be pricey whether you're traveling or just finding ways to keep the kids amused while you work. Worrying about finances can be just one more thing to juggle, adding to your summer anxiety or depression. Your best option is to choose the summer events and activities that are really meaningful and important to you and skip the ones that aren't the best "value" for your money. 

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