As summer nears its end, it’s not uncommon to experience what some people refer to as the end-of-summer blues. For many of us, fall brings back memories of begrudgingly heading back to school after a summer free of teachers and homework.
But there’s another reason a good number of people tend to feel down as summer turns to fall, and it’s backed by science. 20% of the population suffers from something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and as you can tell by its name, it comes and goes with the seasons.
Not only is SAD triggered by shorter days and less light, but it can also be brought on by the lesser amount of dopamine in our brains during the winter months. Higher levels are associated with that summertime pep in our step, while lower levels can lead to wintertime hibernation mode and sluggishness.
Why the summer sun equals summer fun
Why else do people feel better in the summer? There are many reasons, but we’ve included our top 6 below.
1. Sunlight helps our brains produce more serotonin, also known as the “feel good” hormone.
2. Not to mention, spending time in the sun helps our bodies synthesize vitamin D, a.k.a. the “sunshine vitamin.” And, you guessed it, vitamin D helps boost your mood, among other things.
3. During the summer months, we tend to visit farmers’ markets more often, which allows us to consume more fresh produce. Why does that matter? The more fruits and veggies we eat, the more mood-boosting vitamins and nutrients we absorb.
4. When the weather is good, we tend to head outdoors more often. To the park, to the cottage, and even to the garden in our own backyard. Why is this good? Because studies show that time spent in nature does wonders for our mental health.
5. If you’re spending a lot of time outside, you’re more than likely getting more activity than when you’re stuck indoors. A nice sunny day beckons us outside to take a walk, hop on the bike, go for a hike, or jump in the pool. And exercise? It’s good for the soul.
6. Ever wonder why it’s so much easier to wake up in the summertime? Or why you generally feel less sleepy during the day? You can thank the sun for that too. Something interesting happens when the sunlight reaches our eyes in the morning hours. It tells our brain to slow down its production of melatonin, or “the sleep hormone,” helping us wake up naturally. And of course, getting a good night’s sleep means waking up on the right side of the bed.
Let there be light (and other things)
If you tend to experience the end-of-summer blues, why not fight back before it hits? Here’s how:
1. Human beings need a certain amount of light to feel awake in the morning and to feel good throughout the day. (Blame a little thing called circadian rhythm!) So during the shorter days of fall and winter, be sure to get outside during daylight hours, if only for a brief walk during your lunch break, to soak up what you can.
If your body craves more light, you may want to consider a little bit of light therapy in the mornings, which has proven effective in beating the SAD-related blues.
2. During the dark winter months (and possibly all year long), it is imperative that we take our vitamin D supplements for mood, bone health, and more. The fact is, unless you’re getting 2000 iu/day, you’re lacking in vitamin D – no matter what time of year. So why not commit to taking your vitamins (D, that is) 365 days a year? It certainly can’t hurt.
3. While it’s not as easy to get fresh produce in the colder months, it’s certainly not impossible. Try signing up for a delivery service that will pick and choose your fruits and veggies for you (based on availability and freshness).
That way, you can be sure that you’re still eating healthy enough to get all those mood-boosting vitamins and nutrients. Or, stick with your regular grocery list, but consider eating root-to-stem to get more nutrients for less.
4. Unless you enjoy the cold, it can be much more tempting to cozy up to your favorite Netflix series than brave the blustery outdoors. Still, spending time outside each day is a quick and easy way to boost your mood.
It could be as simple as taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood to check out the fall colors, or as involved as getting back into a winter sport that you loved as a kid.
5. It can be tough to motivate ourselves to exercise when we wake before sunrise and leave the office at sunset (not to mention it’s often seems too cold outside to make the trek to the gym!)
But exercise is one of the most important mood enhancers out there, so do your future self a favor and come up with an action plan before the blues hit. Try making a list of new ways to shake up your workout during the cooler months.
6. Make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep every night. Shorter days mess up our body’s circadian rhythm, making it more challenging to wake up in the morning. Still, we can do our best to combat the associated fatigue by simply getting enough sleep.
As if our bodies weren’t confused enough, the artificial light from our devices can trick our bodies into thinking we should be awake longer at night, making it difficult to sleep even if you’re feeling exhausted. So try putting technology away for at least one hour before bed to help your body ease into sleepiness and get the sleep you need.
If you’ve tried it all and you’re still feeling blue, you may be experiencing a more serious form of depression. If this sounds like you, speak with your doctor about the possibility of talk therapy.
And don’t forget, there are many things to look forward to in autumn: fall colors, cooler (more comfortable) temperatures, pumpkin pie and the perfect excuse to show our gratitude (also good for mental health!)