Blue Skies, Blue Mood: What’s Up with That? Summertime Depression

By Fran Bieganek, MS, LP

It’s getting warmer, greener, sunnier, there’s more daylight, everyone seems to be in a better mood – ah spring and summer in Minnesota!!   Our expectation is that everyone feels better once winter makes way for the warm, sunny, extended days of summer.  But, that is a faulty assumption.  Statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health suggest that an average of 17.3 million (7.1%) adults and 3.2 million (13.3%) teenagers experience Major Depressive Disorder each year.  Many people struggle with depression year round.  In fact, 10% of the people who suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder have a summer-type presentation of it, meaning their symptoms actually exacerbate in the spring and summer seasons.  For these people the summer brings with it a particularly difficult struggle, which is exacerbated by the expectation that they should be feeling good “now that summer is here”.

For those of you who may suffer with depression in the summer it’s important for you to know that you aren’t alone, what you are experiencing is real and understandable and there is hope for relief.  This article provides you with some ideas of how to work to alleviate the symptoms you may be experiencing and regain some quality of life.  They reflect interventions that allow you to tend to your mind, body and spirit as you do the work of lessening the effects of depression.  They are suggestions gleaned from research and meant to serve as a guide.

Tending to Your Mind

  • Mindfulness: Mindful presence in each and every moment can loosen the grip of depression.  Depression has a way of hijacking your thoughts – keeping you stuck in a negative loop of worry and hopelessness about past and future events.  This just reinforces the depressed mood state.  To counteract this, take time to feel into your experiences, notice how your thoughts impact your physical and emotional well-being.  Take time to engage in other mindful practices (eating, walking) in which you bring your focus to the present moment.  I once had a student describe to me (in response to an assignment I had given) in great detail her mindful eating of a sandwich – she spent 30 minutes eating one sandwich and her vivid descriptions of tastes, textures, and emotions as she ate stick with me 10 years later!  Her comment about the experience was that she got so lost in the experience that all of the stress she was experiencing melted away during that time.  And, you can bet she’s continued to practice mindfulness from that day forward!
  • Negative thought patterns: Make note of the thought patterns that show up when your mood is low.  For example, maybe you tend to get self-critical or see only the negatives in situations.  Often these patterns of thinking have been conditioned from early childhood or as a response to some stressful event.  Over time you can learn to recognize and name them as temporary, mood-induced, depression thoughts; and learn to manage them by refocusing your attention to something else.  This isn’t pretending the negative thoughts don’t exist.  It’s just acknowledging and then choosing to change your focus – you move depression out of the driver’s seat and take back control of your thought processes.

Tending to Your Body

  • Exercise: Best to do this in the morning, if possible, to take advantage of cool temperatures and to get your body energized.  Research suggests that 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week has been shown to be as effective as antidepressant medications in reducing depression symptoms in people with mild to moderate depression.  Moderate exercise doesn’t have to happen in a formal fitness center setting (although that certainly would fit the bill).  Fast walking, jogging, running, biking and swimming are all good examples of how you might get a good workout that is likely to improve your depression symptoms.  The key is consistency with the exercise.  So, make it a routine.
  • Sleep: Get 7-8 hours nightly and keep a normal routine.  Due to the extended periods of daylight and the multitude of opportunities to be outside long into the evening, it’s easy to get off track.  While it may seem advantageous in the moment, the overall impact can be counterproductive.  Sleep deprivation results in increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  Increased levels of cortisol are associated with depression and anxiety.   So, stick to your normal schedule (use light-blocking curtains or shades if necessary)!
  • Nutrition: Eat foods that you enjoy and that are friendly to your body.  Amino acids and vitamins are crucial to healthy brain functioning.   Vegetables, fruits, proteins, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates all are good ways to maintain a diet that will facilitate optimal brain functioning.

And, be sure you are staying hydrated!   Drink water first thing in the morning, and then drink water regularly throughout            the day.  Insufficient levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are correlated with experiencing depression symptoms.                 Your brain converts the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin.  In order for tryptophan to be transported across the blood-           brain barrier, it must have adequate amounts of water.  A dehydrated body will not be able to sufficiently facilitate proper           levels of serotonin.

  • Sunlight: Make time to get out in the sunshine.  Mornings are a good time to do that!  Even 10 minutes of full spectrum light with a good dose of vitamin D from the sun can have a significant positive effect on alleviating depression symptoms!

Tending to Your Spirit

  • Find support:

Talking with a professional who is experienced in helping others work with and through depressive states can profoundly helpful.   Identifying causes, identifying triggers, exploring new ways of managing symptoms, working through issues (i.e., stressful events, family of origin dynamics, current life stressors, etc.) that have led to a depressed state, sitting with someone who understands – all of these can have the potential to help you alleviate depression symptoms.

Reach out to friends who can be supportive.  This includes those who are able to listen when you need that and to play when you need that!  Find friends who will embrace the whole of you – including the you who is depressed – without expectation that you “just get out and enjoy the sunshine!”.

  • Music: Years ago I worked with a 17 year-old boy who was struggling with a pretty severe depression.  He was an intelligent, athletic, social young man who had a genetic predisposition to depression.  And, sure enough it wielded its heavy sword and he became seriously depressed.  Our work together included several modalities.  But, one that was particularly effective in helping him manage his depression was the use of music.  I had him create playlist for himself that he could use when he was feeling stuck in the depths of the depression and not able to function well at all.  He chose 8-10 songs that represented his “mood continuum”, starting with a couple of songs that represented how he felt when he was in the lowest depths of his depression.  From there the songs were chosen to represent a gradual movement from those depths of depression to a state of happiness, maybe even joy and contentment.   When he was really down he would put on his playlist and listen to it – all the way through.  His resonance with the music allowed him to experience those various states as he listened.  A sure antidote to the depression thinking that leads one to feel eternally stuck in their state!
  • Spiritual Practice: Make it a point to engage in a spiritual practice regularly.  Spiritual practices can include such things as meditation, prayer, serving others (people or pets), reading books/poetry/articles that are positive and inspiring to you, sitting silently in nature, listening to lovely music, writing in a journal.  The possibilities are endless.  These practices can help you to feel more hopeful, help you feel supported and better able to cope, and influence your thoughts and behaviors into more self-affirming patterns.

The ideas presented above are just a few of the many possible healing strategies you can employ to begin to alleviate some of the effects depression has on you.   Depression, with its epigenetic (biological and environmental) underpinnings can be overwhelming.  And, summertime depression has the added wallop of a sense of failure (“What’s wrong with me that I can’t even enjoy this sunny day?!”).   But, there’s no need for you to suffer endlessly.  Reach out for help – take time to heal.  You are worth it!

Fran Bieganek is a Licensed Psychologist practicing holistic psychotherapy and neurofeedback at Bhakti Wellness Center.  She has been practicing for over 20 years and currently specializes in the areas of trauma, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, stress management, developmental transitions and well-being.  She works with both individuals and couples.  As part of her practice she also does QEEG brain mapping and neurofeedback.   In addition to her therapy practice she has also taught Psychology courses at several colleges in Minnesota.  She is currently accepting new clients and can be reached at 612-564-9947 or 952-859-7709 ext. 127 or by emailing her at: