“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~John Steinbeck
PSA: It’s okay if you don’t love summer.
The truth is, I don’t either. In fact, it is my least favorite season. I typically just survive through the summer months (barely), getting through them each year by reminding myself on an almost daily basis that September always comes back and that leg warmers and sweaters and scarves and hoodies will all eventually return.
In the meantime, however, I have been known to feel intermittently miserable, with my level of misery seeming to increase in direct proportion to how hot it is outside on any given day.
I’m not crazy about it being sunny past 9pm. I despise shorts. I can’t sleep in the heat.
And while everyone else is off frolicking on beaches and lounging around swimming pools and having a generally amazing time soaking up the sun, I feel decidedly less social and sometimes depressed and often compelled to stay home alone, where I can hibernate with a good book and a giant fan pointed at my face.
So, yeah. Summer is definitely not my jam.
As it turns out, I am not alone in my experience. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there is a small percentage of people (less than one percent) affected by reverse seasonal affective disorder, tending towards depression and other mood changes — including anxiety, agitation, irritability, and hopelessness — during the summer months instead of the winter.
Who knew, right?
Western medicine doesn’t have a good explantation for why this happens to those of us to whom it does. After all, aren’t sunlight and increased exposure to vitamin D and warmer temperatures supposed to make us feel great?
It has been posited that too much exposure to light might disrupt the modulation of melatonin and, by extension, serotonin in the body, leading to depressed mood. There’s also the theory that longer days mean less sleep overall, which can cause problems with our circadian rhythms. And, well, messing with your circadian rhythm — as any new mom will tell you — can spell disaster for your mood by throwing your hormones out of whack.
But regardless of the physiological mechanism behind the summer blues, the point is this: They are very real and you are not alone if you are familiar with them.
And if you are in the throes of them currently, I feel your pain and I promise it won’t last.
From the perspective of Chinese medicine, reverse SAD makes perfect sense. Because for some of us, the overall energy of summer is like constantly adding fuel to an already hot internal fire.
Yang upon yang upon yang. It can be too much.
This is me. I burn hot, y’all. Which is why I wear tank tops in the winter and despise knee-high boots and don’t really like hot tubs and immediately identify the shaded area in any predominantly sunny situation.
A girl’s gotta be prepared, you know?
Over the past few summers, I have learned some tricks to help mitigate against the deleterious effects of the heat on my system in order to keep anxiety and depression and agitation to a manageable level.
- carrying ice packs with me on really hot days (no shame in my summer game)
- cutting back on alcohol (or eliminating it entirely, like I have this year)
- watching my coffee intake
- taking magnesium, ashwagandha, cod liver oil, and a chinese herbal formula daily
- drinking green tea (this is surprisingly helpful)
- working out in the mornings (daily intentional sweat sesh is a non-negotiable essential)
- getting out of the city and into nature regularly (ideally once a week at least)
- taking cold showers and/or ice baths
- putting my feet in some grass or mud or sand daily (anything that isn’t concrete or asphalt)
- drinking smoothies when I can’t convince myself to consume solid food in 90-degree heat
- strategically-placed fans everywhere
Mostly, however, I’ve stopped judging myself for feeling this way.
I’ve stopped expecting myself to suddenly morph into a person who loves summer and can’t get enough of the heat. I’ve stopped putting pressure on myself to be different than I am.
This, you guys, has made the biggest difference.
Because there’s nothing worse than feeling depressed and anxious and irritable only to then feel guilty for having those feelings in the first place. And it feels terrible to think there’s something wrong with you because you don’t enjoy something it seems like you are supposed to enjoy. Something it seems like everyone else around you loves.
Earlier this week I was speaking with a patient about this very thing. She expressed to me that she also hates summer and that she feels like she is being “summer shamed” for not wanting to DO ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME IT’S SO NICE OUT WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU.
Know this: If you don’t enjoy summer, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.
Just like there’s nothing wrong with me.
We are all wired differently. We all thrive in different seasons and at different times of the day and in different environments. There is not one right way to be.
Summer has a great marketing team, but that doesn’t make it a superior season. And it doesn’t make you defective if you — like me — can’t wait for fall to arrive.
P.s. If you are a summer lover, don’t shame your friends for not being the same way. Ok?