Beat summertime sadness with these cool tips
Seasonal depression isn't limited to cold, gloomy winters. University of Arizona assistant professor Dr. Rohit Madan shares advice for keeping moods up when summer temperatures soar.

By Logan Burtch-Buus, University Communications
July 19, 2023

Summer Heat

Elderly man cools himself off with a towel
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that can also hit people during the summer.

Warm summer months are often full of happy moments and a sense of freedom, but it's not all fun in the sun. Sometimes, higher temperatures and changing social obligations can make long, hot days seem more tiresome than liberating.

A condition often associated with the gloom and chill of winter, seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that can also hit people during the summer.

But what is it about changing weather that causes changes in mental health?

University of Arizona assistant professor of psychiatry Dr. Rohit Madan says fluctuations in mood during different times of the year can be attributed to various factors, including changes in season, light exposure, and social and environmental influences.

With the summer heat in full swing, Madan discussed the science behind seasonal affective disorder and how to keep cool and happy.

Q: Why and how does weather affect our mood? 

A: The influence of weather on mood is a complex topic, and research has shown that both winter and summer months can impact our mood.

Changes in daylight duration and exposure to natural light can affect our circadian rhythm, the internal clock that regulates sleep-wake cycles and various physiological processes. Reduced exposure to natural light during shorter winter days or excessive exposure to bright light during longer summer days can disrupt our circadian rhythm and contribute to mood changes. Weather and light exposure can also influence the production and regulation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin, which are involved in mood regulation.

Weather conditions can also influence our daily activities and social interactions, which in turn affect our mood. Factors like extreme heat, humidity or disrupted routines due to weather changes can contribute to feelings of discomfort, fatigue, irritability and social isolation. Social isolation, holiday stress or financial pressures during certain times of the year may exacerbate depressive symptoms.

Q: Many people associate seasonal affective disorder with winter months, but can it really happen in the summer?

A: While seasonal affective disorder is commonly associated with the winter season, there is growing recognition and evidence that some individuals may experience depressive symptoms during the summer months. This phenomenon is often referred to as summertime S-SAD or reverse SAD. There has been limited research into this subset of depression, but about 10% of people with SAD have summertime worsening of mood symptoms, and as psychiatrists, we do see it.

Q: How does the summer – and particularly the heat – affect our physical well-being and mental health?  

A: High temperatures and humidity can lead to physiological changes in the body, including increased heart rate, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. These factors can contribute to fatigue, irritability and mood disturbances. Pollen levels are often high in the summer, and this can trigger allergies and asthma, and therefore inflammation, which can also contribute to feelings of fatigue and depression.

Schedule changes for people with seasonal occupations, such as teachers, may make people feel out of sorts due to loss of structure in the summer. Even slight changes in schedule can impact mental health. For office workers, workflow might change. If other people are out, you may be doing extra work to compensate. Similarly, summer break for kids can add more stress for families, financially and emotionally, from child care needs in addition to schedule changes.

High temperatures and humidity during the summer can also interfere with sleep quality and duration. Sometimes, longer summer hours can throw people off. Sleep schedules may be impacted. Sleep disturbances have been linked to increased stress, irritability and mood alterations. Other issues like fatigue, impaired cognitive function and even compromised immune function are also seen.

Q: What are some symptoms to look out for during the summer related to depression?  

A: The symptoms of summer seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of winter-onset seasonal affective disorder or major depressive disorder. Some differences are that in the summer you are more likely to experience insomnia, weight loss and anxiety than people with winter-onset seasonal affective disorder. You may also be more irritable and have trouble concentrating.

Q: Are there specific, heat-safe activities known to help prevent summertime depression?

A: Engaging in heat-safe activities during the summer can be beneficial for mental health and can potentially help prevent or alleviate symptoms of depression. It's important to prioritize personal preferences and health conditions and consult with health care professionals for individualized recommendations.

Getting enough sleep is especially important during the summer months, when the days are longer and it can be harder to fall asleep. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these substances can worsen insomnia and anxiety. While avoiding caffeine, make sure to also stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, especially water.

You should also engage in activities that promote self-care, relaxation and stress reduction. This may include practicing mindfulness or meditation, engaging in regular physical exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, getting sufficient sleep and establishing a daily routine. Guided meditation apps or online resources can provide structured practices suitable for different needs and levels of experience.

Engaging in indoor physical activities, such as yoga, Pilates, dancing or home workouts, can help boost mood, reduce stress and promote overall well-being. It allows individuals to stay active while avoiding excessive heat exposure.

You can also pursue indoor hobbies, such as reading, puzzles, cooking, gardening indoor plants or engaging in crafts to provide a sense of accomplishment, relaxation and enjoyment while staying cool indoors. Engaging in creative activities, such as painting, drawing, writing or playing a musical instrument, can provide an outlet for self-expression, promote relaxation and enhance mood.

People should also make sure to connect with supportive family members, friends or support groups who can offer understanding, empathy and assistance. Social support can play a crucial role in managing depression and enhancing overall well-being.

Finally, remember to reach out to a mental health professional for an accurate assessment and appropriate treatment options tailored to your specific needs. They can provide therapy, recommend medication if necessary and offer guidance throughout the process.


Resources for the media

Media contact(s)

Logan Burtch-Buus

News Writer, University Communications