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Summer is typically associated with carefree fun — but for some people, sunny days can spark sadness.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a condition that causes depressive symptoms and mood changes — is often linked to the dark winter months, but it can rear its head any time of year, according to experts.
Dr. Michael Groat, director of psychology for Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut, spoke with Fox News Digital about why some people suffer from summer sadness.
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There are two types of seasonal affective disorder, the doctor said.
“One is a winter pattern where the symptoms occur during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight,” he said.
“The other is a summer pattern, where the symptoms occur during the spring and summer months when it is lighter.”
“Symptoms of either pattern usually last four to five months,” he added.
Signs of summer sadness can include difficulty sleeping, a lack of energy, trouble concentrating and even suicidal despair, Groat said.
Individuals also can exhibit increased restlessness, weight loss and agitation.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can experience periods of sadness, but existing mental health conditions can raise the risk.
Twenty-five percent of people with bipolar disorder and 10%-20% of people with major depressive disorder also have seasonal affective disorder, according to Groat.
Women are more prone to the disorder than men, and it is most likely to begin in younger adults between the ages of 18 and 30.
“It is thought that the increased light found in the summer months affects the Circadian rhythm — the natural biological clock that regulates hormones, sleep and moods — of those who develop summertime SAD,” Groat explained.
This could explain why people who live in areas with long winter nights (higher latitudes) and less sunlight are more likely to experience SAD, he added.
Preventing summer sadness
Although it may not always be preventable, there are steps one can take to lessen symptoms or keep sadness at bay, Groat said.
“These steps include healthy lifestyle habits such as routine exercise and movement, good nutrition and healthy sleep,” he said.
“Sleep in particular is essential for helping maintain mood stability. Effective stress management is also important.”
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Dr. Maggie Tipton, senior director of psychological services at Caron Treatment Centers in Pennsylvania, also recommended limiting alcohol consumption.
“Alcohol consumption often increases during the summer, and the depressant quality of alcohol can exacerbate feelings of summer sadness,” she told Fox News Digital.
“It’s a time when we need to be increasingly mindful of intake.”
‘Consider taking a break from social media’
“If you find yourself increasing your scrolling on Instagram or Facebook, feeling jealous of others’ highlight reels or comparing your summer experiences to theirs — consider taking a break from social media,” said Tipton.
“Be mindful and more thoughtful about your social media consumption and the times you are engaging,” she added.
Even if it appears that everyone on your feed is having the time of their lives, the doctor noted that social media is a “highlight reel” of people’s lives, which can set “highly unrealistic expectations.”
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“Give yourself permission to do what makes you happy and what works for your lifestyle,” she said.
“It’s OK to say no to a day by the pool if staying indoors is what you or your family really needs to reset and recharge so you can be your healthiest.”
She also said, “The important thing is to figure out what you can do, regardless of season, that brings you happiness or contentment.”
Diagnosis and treatment
Those who have persistent symptoms can see a psychiatrist or mental health professional for a diagnosis.
“If you’re feeling increased agitation, restlessness, changes in sleep patterns and/or a lack of appetite, these are signs you or a loved one may benefit from professional help,” Tipton said.
The professional can review the symptoms, along with their duration, to determine a diagnosis, Groat added.
“If the symptoms continue past summer, the diagnosis might change to major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder,” he said.
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Summer SAD can be treated with psychotherapy, medication and lifestyle, the doctor said.
“Individual psychotherapy can provide support and address underlying thoughts and feelings related to the experience of depression,” he said.
“Medication, such as antidepressants, can provide relief of symptoms as well.”
Healthy lifestyle habits, such as adequate sleep, good nutrition, social support and stress management, also lay the foundation for ensuring well-being, experts say.
Seeking “moments of joy” also helps to boost mental health, said Tipton.
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“Be creative and thoughtful with your summer plans, finding things that you can look forward to,” she suggested.
“That may just mean having a favorite ice cream cone or taking in a summer concert, enjoying a picnic outside with your family or sitting outside to watch the sunset.”
She added, “Little pieces of daily joy can often mean as much as an extended vacation away.”
To read more pieces in Fox News Digital’s “Be Well” series, click here.