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Summer isn’t always Popsicles, pools and parties 

Contrary to the season’s carefree image, many children (and adults) can suffer summertime blues 

By Stacey Cooke, M.S.W., LCSW, CPNLP 

Whether it is the serotonin from summer’s sunlight or less structured days without the stress of school that lifts moods, it seems that everyone feels relaxed and happy during the summer.  

Well, most everyone. For some people, surviving summer can be a challenge, particularly because of the expectation that the season should make us happier.  

Summer blues often particularly impact children because their days lack structure, routine and access to school support, counselors and friends. Routines give children and teens stability. While wide-open, often unscheduled summer days seem less stressful than schooldays, they can result in increased anxiety for some children who struggle with mental wellness. 

In addition, some children spend more time on electronic devices and less time around others during summer. With less supervision, teens may be more likely to engage in dangerous behavior. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, June and July are the peak months for teen drinking and drug use. 

Even in sunny Florida, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is often associated with shorter, cloudy days in colder climates during winter, can occur in Southwest Florida when the season shifts to longer summer days. SAD is believed to be associated with shifts in daylight that change our biological clocks and circadian rhythms that regulate our sleep, mood and hormones. For instance, on June 20 – the first day of summer – sunrise in Southwest Florida is 6:34 a.m. and sunset is 8:23 p.m. Compare that to Dec. 21 – the first day of winter – when the sun will rise at 7:11 a.m. and set at 5:39 p.m. 

Symptoms of summer SAD can include trouble sleeping, decreased appetite, weight loss, feelings of helplessness or worthlessness, and a lack of motivation and interest in activities. 

SAD and other summer blues are also connected to environmental factors like air pollution, pollen counts and heat and humidity-related difficulties like asthma. Floridians can add Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from natural disasters like hurricanes to the list. 

Extreme summer heat can also increase irritability and symptoms of depression. Researchers have linked hot temperatures to problems with memory, attention, reaction time and sleep difficulties, all of which can impact mental wellness. People who are already struggling with mental health issues may be more likely to feel heat’s impact. 

Potential reasons for summer blues include: 

  • Heat causes an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, which can increase anxiety. Stress hormones are generally higher during hotter months. 
  • Fatigue and exhaustion from heat cause regular activities to require more energy. 
  • Longer days often mean less sleep and different sleep habits. 
  • Heat can reduce motivation to exercise and spend time outdoors. 
  • Media, advertisements and social media increase the perception that everyone is having fun and is happy during summer, adding to stress to feel happy. 
  • Staying indoors to avoid the heat can result in less social activity and feelings of isolation and loneliness. 
  • Allergies triggered by seasonal pollen cause inflammation, which has been linked to depression. 
  • Concern about physical appearance causes anxiety about participating in summer activities like swimming and going to the beach. 

While summer is inevitable, children and adults can take steps to safeguard their mental wellness. It is important to: 

  • Maintain regular sleep and awake times. Blackout curtains help to mitigate earlier sunrises and later sunsets. 
  • Minimize screen time, particularly before bedtime when screens can suppress melatonin levels and delay sleep. Excessive screen use has also been found to impair social and emotional competency and promote aggression. 
  • Adjust plans for heat, but maintain physical activities to keep depression at bay. Exercise causes the brain to release endorphins and serotonin that help improve mood. Swimming is an excellent option in the summer. 
  • Spend time with friends and family. Social engagement promotes a sense of belonging, enhances self-esteem and supports brain health.  
  • Stay cool. While sunshine is beneficial, too much sun and heat can cause you to feel irritable and tired. The body responds to cooler body temperatures by moving fresh blood, which helps with anxiety. Take cool baths and showers, lower blinds, and find shade and air-conditioning. Limit outdoor activities to early morning or late evening when the sun is not as hot. 

It is normal to have some days when you feel down, but when summer blues affect daily functioning, relationships, ability to participate in activities, or linger for days at a time, it is important to seek help for yourself or for your children. 

About the Author 

Stacey Cook is president and CEO of SalusCare. Many know the Fort Myers-based, not-for-profit for its mental health and substance abuse services for adults. SalusCare also has immediate availability to treat children and teens. For more information, text “appt” to 239-275-3222

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