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  • Writer's pictureJoss Burns

Tips, identifiers, and support for summer-time SAD and post-vacation blues

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

A woman stands on vacation property sadly overlooking the ocean

When we think of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), we often associate it with the so-called winter blues. Colder days, longer nights, and a lack of direct sunlight can have an effect on our mental health.

But winter isn’t the only seasonal trigger that can have an affect on our moods. Even in summer or fall – a time we often associate with good weather and relaxation – individuals can struggle with seasonal depression.

It’s important to note that, within this, there’s a normal level of sadness, such as mild post-vacation blues and the return to routine after time off. However, for other individuals, it can go beyond the normal ups and downs, whether it’s because of an underlying work issue or something known as summer-pattern SAD.

Post-vacation blues vs. summer-pattern SAD

While no episode of depression is agreeable and all should be taken seriously, summer-pattern SAD can represent a larger challenge for individuals who suffer from it. Unlike post-vacation blues, it can be indicative of larger mental health problems that continue throughout the year.

Post-vacation blues

Let’s begin with the back-to-work jitters after time off. Most of us will have experienced this at some point and it exists on a scale from minor to severe. Minor feelings of anxiety when returning to work are entirely natural and shouldn’t be a source of worry. It’s simply the realization that the event we were looking forward to has passed and we need to get back to “real” life.

However, for some people, it goes beyond a gentle anxiety or sadness to a more acute sense of dread. If this is the case, there are a number of questions you can ask yourself to determine the severity of your situation.

  1. How long was the time off? It can be more difficult to return to work after an extended absence.

  2. Is this a recurring sensation? Twice a year after the “big” time off is nothing to worry about, but if it’s happening every Sunday, there may be a larger issue at play.

  3. Time to disconnect. Were you able to disconnect easily during your time off or were you thinking about work the whole time?

  4. When does it begin? On the last day or two of vacation, it’s normal to begin feeling twinges of anxiety. If it happens before that, there may be a larger issue.

Why do you feel this way?

If you fall on the more extreme end with regard to the above questions, it is a good idea to then ask yourself why you feel this way. While you may be suffering from broader issues of depression, it’s more likely that there are issues in your work environment that are not meeting your needs.

Generally, this is due to a negative element present in your work environment, whether high levels of stress, too much work, conflict, ethical issues, or similar. If this is the case, consider your time off as a period of reflection to help you decide next steps – whether that is addressing the negative aspects in your workplace or looking for a new job.

Summer-pattern SAD

Now we’ll move on to summer-pattern SAD, which can be more difficult to address as there is a less-obvious trigger for the emotions. For this issue, sufferers can experience a number of symptoms as outlined by the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)

  • Poor appetite, leading to weight loss

  • Restlessness and agitation

  • Anxiety

  • Episodes of violent behavior

This can also be accompanied by more general symptoms associated with depression, such as chronic sadness, loss of interest, feeling sluggish and low energy, a sense of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.

If you feel this way, don’t delay – there are people available to help you.

Coping with SAD or post-vacation blues

While we strongly recommend seeking professional help (particularly if you are finding the emotions difficult to deal with) there are steps you can take yourself to better cope with feelings of depression – no matter how temporary.

Mental Health of America has some great tips to help build new, positive routines that can have a real impact on your mental health. Below, we’ll explore some of the most useful ones.

Take for example the issue with poor sleep. Much of this is a matter of habit and having routines that include diet and exercise can play a large role in your success. It’s worth noting that it can take around 66 days for a behavior to become automatic so consistency is key for success.

Customize your routine

When building a routine, it’s important to develop one that works for your particular context. All healthy routines will have similar characteristics such as diet and exercise but this must work within the context of your own schedule.

More tortoise than hare

It’s tempting to begin with all guns blazing. We sign up for the gym. We buy a bunch of fruit and veggies. We lock our phones in a drawer after 8 p.m. Yes, these are good habits – but are they sustainable? Instead, try introducing one small change every week or month. They’re easier to maintain and will build naturally over time.

Habit add-on

A tried-and-tested technique for building new habits is to piggyback on something you already do. If you drink coffee every morning, that’s ten minutes you can use to do a complementary activity, whether reading, a short yoga session, or more.

Plan ahead

Becoming a planner can help you in a number of ways. As MHA says, will it help with routine tasks like meal prep, going to the gym, etc. But beyond the routine aspect, make sure to plan trips or events that you enjoy. This could be a date with your partner, a trip with the kids, or anything else. The point is having something to look forward to can help us cope during the more mundane aspects of our lives.

All progress is useful

If you take two steps forward and one step back, you’ve still made progress. This is important to remember when taking steps to address your own mental health issues. There will be times when you feel you’ve failed or “fallen off the wagon” with your routine. Don’t worry – every journey has its ups and downs, what’s important is that you keep moving forward.

Remember, if you are feeling down and need some support, help is always available to you. You can call or text the 988 helpline which will forward you to a center here in Illinois. Take a free, anonymous mental health test.

For other inquiries or to find resources, please contact us at Mental Health America of Illinois.


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