What is “Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder”?
Summer SAD: A lesser-known condition
Most of us understand what it’s like to get the winter blues, where the only thing we want to do is cuddle up and watch Netflix for hours on end. However, for some of us, these blues are serious enough to be classified as a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly referred to as SAD. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, SAD is a type of depression that’s directly related to the change of seasons and affects people at the same time every year. Symptoms may include depression, loss of interest, low energy, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite or weight, negative thoughts, and/or thoughts of suicide (if you are having suicidal thoughts or ideations, talk to your therapist or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-274-8255. Chat is available here for those who are deaf or hard of hearing). While most people think SAD only appears in the winter, summer SAD is surprisingly common and starts in late spring and lasts until early fall. The most common symptoms of summer SAD are insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss, and anxiety (Mayo Clinic, 2017).
SAD can disproportionately affect people with eating disorders
While many people think of the warm months as a time to look forward to, summer can exacerbate eating disorder symptoms and cause SAD for some of the 30 million people who struggle with eating disorders. Studies have found that “summer SAD,” which is related to an increase in light and temperature, is found at “unexpectedly high” rates in people with eating disorders (Hardin et al., 1991). This may be attributed to the fact that eating disorders can worsen in the summer due to a variety of circumstances, resulting in increased rates of depression. Certain things about summer are thought to contribute to increased severity of eating disorder symptoms, including:
- Warm weather means less clothing. If you struggle from an eating disorder, chances are you are hyperaware of your body, which may make swimsuits, shorts, and tanks feel less than comfortable to wear.
- A sharp increase in diet talk. As summer ramps up, we see an increase in ad campaigns targeted at promoting weight loss, which can result in a societal push to become “beach body ready.” Or, at least what the mainstream media considers to be “beach body ready.”
- A lack of structure and a potential increase in free time. For students, teachers, or those with lifestyles that change during the summer, an increase in free time and a lack of structure may make maintaining good eating habits more challenging than usual.
- Barbeques, parties, picnics, and more! Public eating may result in increased anxiety and fear for those living with eating disorders. This could result in a refusal to attend social gatherings, which may contribute to an increase in feelings of loneliness and depression.
Pair these circumstances with summer SAD and the results can be severe (Liang, 2016). A study conducted for the Journal of Psychiatric Research demonstrated that there is a statistically significant increase in hospital admissions of patients with eating disorders during the summer months, suggesting that summer can increase the severity of eating disorders (Liang, 2016).
What can you do?
We know summer isn’t going to stop, so what can we do to make summer a safe time? For those with eating disorders, try the following practices to stay on track with your eating disorder recovery:
- If you haven’t yet, consider starting treatment. If your schedule opens up in the summertime, take advantage of it and seek professional help for your eating disorder.
- Set strong boundaries. If you know certain situations are going to harm your recovery, don’t take part in them. The best thing you can do for your recovery is to take care of yourself and honor your limitations.
- Make plans. If you are in recovery and on a meal plan, make sure you can observe this. This may mean bringing your own food to social events or asking what will be offered—and that is okay! Remember, your health is the first priority.
- Take part in activities that promote mental health and well-being. You could start a meditation practice, try gentle yoga, paint, write, draw, or do whatever makes you feel the most at peace with yourself.
If you’re supporting someone else in eating disorder recovery, try the following practices:
- Be available to offer support when needed.
- Stay alert. Know the warning signs, including appetite loss, change in mood, weight loss, or an increase in body image concerns. If the individual is interested in pursuing treatment, help them look for resources.
- Make your gatherings food-friendly! Offer a variety of options and communicate what you plan to serve prior to the event. It may make it easier for someone in recovery if they know what to expect.
- Watch how you talk about food. No calorie counting, no food shaming, and definitely no promoting the idea that you have to “exercise off” what you eat.
In the end, we are all in the fight against body shaming and eating disorders together! So, be a vocal, supportive, and informed ally. As always, if you are seeking help with an eating disorder, please reach out to The Emily Program at 1-888-364-5977. We would love to be a part of your recovery journey.
Hardin, T. A., Wehr, T. A., Brewerton, T., Kasper, S., Berrettini, W., Rabkin, J., & Rosenthal, N. E. (1991). Evaluation of seasonality in six clinical populations and two normal populations. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 25(3), 75-87. doi:10.1016/0022-3956(91)90001-q
Liang, C., Chung, C., Tsai, C., & Chien, W. (2016). Seasonality of hospital admissions and birth dates among inpatients with eating disorders: A nationwide population-based retrospective study. Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 23(2), 233-240. doi:10.1007/s40519-016-0326-0
Seasonal Affective Disorder – Genetics Home Reference. (2018, May 22). Retrieved from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/seasonal-affective-disorder#statistics Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). (2017, October 25). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). (2017, October 25). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651