Summer is supposed to be the best. Unlike winter, which is aggressively mad at you, summer thinks you’re great — it’s always down for a good time and loves hanging out with you. So when you’re depressed in the summer — because it’s summer — it’s particularly unbearable.
Getting the winter blues needs no explanation. Less daylight and cold weather conspire to leave us feeling isolated, cranky and lonely. Summertime sadness, though, is all the more miserable because you’re depressed — but now you’ve got the reminder that you’re Doing Summer Wrong.
Some one in 10 people who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) get hit with it during the shiny happy days, Smithsonian Magazine reports. (It’s sometimes called Reverse SAD.) “Both summer SAD and winter SAD people can experience the full range of symptoms of major depressive disorder — depressed mood, hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness and nihilism,” UCLA psychiatrist Ian Cook tells Smithsonian.
But the symptoms are seasonally different: Instead of the weight gain, sluggishness and excessive sleep that winter SADs feel, Cook said that summer SADs experience weight loss, anxiety and insomnia. And though it’s typically women who get seasonal depression more than men (at a rate of 4 to 1), men do suffer from it. Metro UK notes that the cause of summer anxiety is twofold: Pressure to have a Lit Summer leaves a lot of people feeling insecure and inadequate. And in the summers when we’re actually allowed outside, pressure to look good in less clothing makes people feel insecure and adequate, too.
“I’m not very body-conscious, and when I’ve got my arms and legs out, I feel so anxious,” a man named Scott tells Metro. “I hate wearing shorts because my legs are too hairy and I don’t wear vests because my arms are thin and flat. I see buff gym guys wearing them and they look great, but on me, not so much. I can’t stop thinking about how people might be looking at my body and judging me.”
I polled some men I know to find out if any of them get the summertime blues.
“I feel like it has more to do with the elements: Heat makes you wanna sleep, and it makes it harder to sleep,” a man named Adam tells me. “You know how summer colds are more annoying than winter colds? It’s kind of like that. It’s more in your face. Also, the concept of summer clothes is torturous for those of us with body-image issues. It’s too hot for your default attire, and everything else feels like being dressed in exclamation points. So it becomes a matter of Choose Your Own Discomfort.”
Another guy, Aaron, tells me he gets the summertime blues in a big way. “I don’t want to go outside at all, so I get depressed being inside all day and I am sure get a worse-than-normal [vitamin] D deficiency,” he told me. “The heat makes me physically tired as soon as I walk out into it. Any hope of turning your life around with some outdoor exercise is pushed out to the fall. Also, if you’re kind of a fatty, you still have to dress for the heat, which means you don’t flatter yourself.”
It’s not dissimilar to why summer colds are so miserable. It’s not that they are actually worse than getting sick any other time of year. It’s that it seems tragically worse because it’s happening to you at a time when it isn’t supposed to, and when it doesn’t seem to be happening to anyone else.
As for why it happens to some people and not others, or why it happens at all, Smithsonian notes that there are, so far, only theories and not much research on Reverse SAD. It could be a matter of too much heat, allergies or shifts in sleep habits because of the extra daylight. There’s a working theory that where you live is the culprit: People who live in warmer areas (like the South) may be more prone to Summer SAD. Another theory suggests it’s when you’re born: If you’re born in summer, maybe you’re literally better at living through the summer when you’re older. (Well, it’s true in mice.)
But maybe it’s actually even more existential than that: We learn early on that summer is a kind of way station in life. It signals the months between the end of school and journey toward either the next year or, eventually, real adulthood. During childhood, it’s largely a break from responsibility and opportunity to mess around before digging back into real life. The feeling that summer is a break of some kind is hard to shed as an adult, even when you know you’ll be working right through those months anyway.
In other words, the summer blues could be philosophical: It’s the sadness of leaving one thing and being stuck in the horrible in-between before the next.
Summer sads are extra brutal if you don’t know exactly where your life is heading. On a Reddit forum, a guy just finishing high school asks if anyone else has “hit the summer blues yet.”
“I literally did nothing yesterday,” he writes. “I achieved nothing. I didn’t get out of my PJs and I didn’t leave the house. I just browsed Reddit and YouTube. It’s been a week since I finished and I already feel like sh*t.”
But it’s important to note that this sort of hot-weather crisis of meaning can hit at any age. A man in his 40s messaged me privately on Facebook to wax poetic about his particular summer blues:
“What do you mean by summertime blues? Like having to work for the man? Or the brief moments of teenage nostalgia that hits like feral waves and then are gone as soon as you hear a car horn, baby cry, text alert, email with a ! or any other real-time occurrence that shakes one back to the reality that one is not in a rock band and has commitments, responsibilities and a receding hairline?”
“I often listen to the classic rock station because nowadays they play the same music that was popular when I was in high school. Because I’m not ready to give up yet. Even though I already have.”
Yikes. I ask him if that actually happens to him every summer, or just now, because he’s older.
“Yes, every summer,” he says. To cope, he makes a playlist of summer-specific songs that remind him of his best summers.
On Reddit, other summer sufferers recommend their own solutions: One man instructs, glibly, to simply go “do something!”
As for what actual experts might advise, most of the research has been devoted to solving winter blues, the main antidote to which is light therapy. But that will do little for people suffering from too much light.
It’s no surprise, then, that at least some people with Reverse SAD see some improvement by going dark. Marc Romano, a doctor at a behavioral health clinic, told Bustle that so far, it’s just “decreased exposure to sunlight” that will quiet that mania.
So close the blinds, turn on the AC and treat yourself to a night in. It’ll be fall before you know it.