SAD DURING SUMMER
Rising mercury levels not only make us sweat more, it can also amplify anxiety and anger, and make us feel uninspired. Change in weather patterns affect our moods and can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD).
CHENNAI: A change in weather would make a ton of difference to city denizens who have been reeling from the heat wave. Notwithstanding the regular problems such as extreme humidity, tiredness etc that summer brings, experts claim seasonal weather also triggers various mental health issues.
While sunshine fosters sentiments of joy and optimism in countries that have sub-zero temperatures and multiple weather conditions, incessant downpour can also trigger symptoms of despair and depression in some.
A few drops of rain, a gloomy sky, a mildly windy day or scorching heat in the city/town can affect how we think and feel. Weather conditions can have a huge impact on how we handle our daily chores.
Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD), which are often observed during late spring, autumn and a few instances, during summer, are mood disorders that transpire during seasonal changes. It’s especially common in countries with extreme weather conditions in winter.
SAD are relapses of previously treated mental health conditions that are commonly observed during seasonal changes. Symptoms usually vary from frequent irritability and anxiety in summer, and depression during winter.
“SAD usually occurs when the weather is often dull and lacks sunshine. It’s a lot more common in countries where there’s a long winter. In India, it’s observed in the North where harsh winters are predominant,” says Nithya Hariya Mohan, a city-based consultant-neuropsychologist.
SAD could sometimes be triggered by abundance of sunlight.
This can cause agitation among some people, which adversely affects their sleeping patterns. A good sleep is crucial for regulating mood.
A mental health relapse is occasionally triggered by unrelated life events, including a time of change or a family crisis. In other cases, this may be the result of a behavioural change, such as quitting the gym or breakages in support systems.
Most frequently, relapses develop gradually over time. While some signs are subtle and therefore, difficult to detect, others are far more overt.
While seasonal changes may not be the primary cause for these relapses, it is observed to be one of the factors triggering the previously treated condition. “Often, relapses occur due to discontinuation of medication or if the previous condition is not completely treated, and due to which seasonal changes like summer could trigger the condition,” suggests Dr Vandhana, a clinical psychologist at V-Hope.
There is research to suggest that a considerable number of cases are observed with recurrence or relapse patterns in countries with extreme cold conditions.
However, there are not many studies regarding this pattern of behaviours or observations in tropical countries.
“We see many patients with bipolar disorders especially during summer. It accounts for 10% of all cases,” says Dr Poorna Chandrika, psychiatrist, Institute of Mental Health. “Usually in the Western countries, symptoms for these disorders become unmanageable or chaotic during winter but in India, summer seems to be one of the triggers. Environmental triggers might be a cause for relapse of disorders although studies based on cases in India are still lagging on this subject.”
Recent research shows every 1% rise in temperature might result in a 0.8% increase in symptoms related to mental health-related issues in summer.
The research is limited on the link between summer heat and mental health, although professionals observe a rise in the percentage of mental health issues triggered by heat stress, anger issues and loneliness during summer.
“A significant observation is noted among adolescents and adults, especially in conditions like loneliness. Many students find detachments during summer as a primary cause for loneliness due to distance built during vacations and travelling,” suggests Dr Vandhana.
Factors such as irregular sleep patterns, Vitamin D deficiency and even family history of SAD or mood disorders have been observed as triggers.
“Mood disorders, especially bipolar disorder, are common during summer, as depression is usually linked to low light, dysregulation of circadian rhythm, and limited exposure to sunlight which is caused by Vitamin D deficiency. Recently, bipolar disorder cases are being observed during summer and this can be due to dysregulation of the sleep cycle,” she points out.
People, especially adolescents and adults, try to change their routines during summer. This could lead to dysregulation of sleep that can result in mood-related disorders. “If there is a family history of psychiatric disorder, the summer heat can trigger some of the symptoms,” she adds.
Irritability-related issues, sleep disruptions, weight loss, and body-image issues can now be linked to the summer heat.
“Many people tend to share their vacation pictures on social media. And sometimes, it might be intimidating for others, which can trigger symptoms of depression,” opines Dr Vandhana.
Observing the pattern of thoughts during seasonal changes, especially when they’re repetitive, helps in identifying some of the triggers. “If an individual observes this pattern consecutively for 2 years or more during seasonal changes, then it’s time that they consult a mental health professional,” she suggests.
Mental health professionals highly recommend that people work on their sleep routines and overcome sleep disruptions.
As sleep has becomes highly dysregulated across age groups due to gadget usage past bedtime, it contributes to the factors triggering mental health issues on the higher spectrum.
The causes of summer SAD are not always clear, and evidence is scarce. But it seems logical that it’s linked to reduced levels of melatonin (enhances sleep) and serotonin (helps regulate mood). This can disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm and sleep pattern, which can lead to an inability to adjust to seasonal changes.
Try indulging in some form of physical activity which would enhance your mood-related neurotransmitters which in turn regulates better mental health. It reduces irritability and anger issues that are commonly observed during summer.
Diet and food habits are prominent contributors to overall well-being. Working on a simple and junk-free diet would enhance your mental health substantially. High consumption of junk food disrupts hormones which in turn disrupts neurotransmitters. This worsens symptoms of mental health issues.
(With inputs from Pavai Iniyaval)