Seasonal Affective Disorder in the Spring and Summer

We want to have it all. We want to do it all. We’re (sun)burnt out.

Summer-onset seasonal affective disorder Cropped Photo by Chang Liu on Unsplash

Feeling anxious? Wondering how you can possibly do everything you want to accomplish? Going and going and going, and knowing that at some point you’re probably going to crash?

Yeah, me too.

When you’re trying to have it all, or even just trying to survive in capitalism, burnout is always a looming threat.

We have this idea that winter’s the tough season to get through, for our mental health, and we just need to survive the winter. The sun’ll come out tomorrow and all that.

But do longer days really translate to easy life and better mental health?

In winter, we expect our moods to drop.

Less sun in the winter means less vitamin D, and lower temperatures mean our immune systems aren’t as effective at fighting off colds. Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the apt acronym SAD) is real — and worth taking steps to fix. The National Institute of Mental Health recommends treatment with one or more of vitamin D, light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication.

But did you know SAD can strike in the warmer months as well?

Summer-onset seasonal affective disorder

The Mayo Clinic says seasonal affective dissorder can affect you in the spring and summer as well. It lists the symptoms of “summer-onset seasonal affective disorder” or “summer depression” as

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

The Mayo Clinic’s website also mention that many people with bipolar disorder find themselves experiencing mania or hypomania with the arrival of spring or summer.

I’m seeing it in myself. I’m seeing it in my friends.

We are trying to have it all, to do it all. We are doing so much, and yet we feel like we’re failing.

In the fall and winter, we allow ourselves to cozy up at home. We pop some vitamin D and wrap ourselves in blankets. In the colder months, we have the personal and cultural permission to be inside most of the day, and this allows us to get things done and hopefully to rest as well.

Spring is a whole different story. Longer days bring new pressures — albeit good ones — to play outside, to garden, to picnic, to ride our bikes to the farmers’ market, to arrange playdates for our kids. And don’t forget spring cleaning! Yes, these things can be positive, but we are trying to fit everything we did during winter — working and sleeping and cooking and cuddling and reading and creating art — while also welcoming our communities and the natural world back into our lives.

We want to have it all. We want to do it all. We’re (sun)burnt out.

I’ve full-on embraced my dandelions, but some of you are even adding lawn-mowing to your list of weekly tasks. Or trying to curate fashionable, functional gardens.

With all these positive pressures, and the days getting longer and longer, I am painfully aware of how little of me there is to go around.

Burnout in the bathtub Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash

Do you feel like something’s gotta give?

The symptoms of summer-onset seasonal affective disorder mention poor appetite. Since the sun’s come out, I have gotten so caught up in getting everything done that I’ve skipped entire meals without realizing. Who knows how far I’d go with this if I didn’t have my child to tether me to a scheduled reality of bodily needs.

Trouble sleeping is another symptom of summer-onset seasonal affective disorder. Too often, sleep is the first thing to go, as we don’t allow ourselves to rest until we’ve accomplished everything we want to for the day. But sleep may be the most important thing we can do for ourselves.

We know how sleep deprivation affects our mental health — when we don’t sleep enough, we can feel our focus wavering and our tempers shortening — but did you know not getting enough sleep affects your health in other ways as well? According to the National Institute of Health, “Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.”

Alright, we need to eat. We need to sleep. What can we cut?

Can I just quit working?

Many of my writer friends have recently expressed that they’re going to try writing less, because they’re feeling anxious and burnt out. Studies show that writing is healing for your mind and the rest of your body. (Michelle Monet, editor of the Medium publication Writing Heals, writes about some more of these studies here.)

But when you write for a living, you’re probably writing more than a therapeutic amount. Building a career can be — or at least feel like — nonstop work.

Under capitalism, paid work is an imperative, in the same way food and sleep are. Until we have universal basic income, paid work looks and feels like something we can’t give up for a second.

What if the solution is bigger than personal prioritization?

Sure, take a look at all the things you do in a day. Maybe there’s a time-waster you could eliminate. Maybe your priorities could use a shift. But more likely, you’re a super-hero, and you’re living in a culture that values overworking to the point of burnout.

A recent Washington Post article, From Moms to Medical Doctors, Burnout is Everywhere These Days by Jenny Rough, points out that some countries — which I noticed are all known for having more socialist policies than the United States — recognize burnout as a legitimate medical issue:

Part of the difficulty of pinpointing true burnout may be because burnout is a nonmedical term — at least in the United States. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders doesn’t list it as an illness. But other countries including France, Denmark and Sweden, do recognize burnout syndrome and consider it to be a legitimate reason to take a sick day from work.

Recognizing the medical roots beneath our feelings of overwhelm — whether we call it burnout syndrome, summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, clinical anxiety, or chronic stress — could mean a cultural and policy shift toward quality of life that isn’t dependent on an amount of work that leaves us drained.

For now, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and burnt out, you are not alone. And you are not a failure. Society expects too much of you. Society is failing you. And it doesn’t have to be this way forever.


Until society changes, here’s a change of perspective to try out: