Do you have the summer doldrums? Your anxiety is up, maybe you’ve lost your appetite and are having trouble sleeping? How, you might ask, can anyone feel down in the summer? Everyone seems happy, glad to be outside, loving the long days.
But it happens. Turns out, it’s not just the winter months when people get depressed.
The Summer blues
Summer can trigger depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder can happen when the weather warms up. Long days, increasing heat and humidity play a role along with not having a routine. Summer messes up schedules, which is stressful. When employees fight depression they rely on a regular routine to deal with symptoms. Kid’s are out of school, regular eating habits and sleep patterns are disrupted. Heat makes us irritable, and overheated work places increase our stress levels.
But what about that beach-bod? Summer brings warm weather and self-consciousness for some workers who may develop body image anxieties. It makes things as simple as going to the company picnic a source of worry. Having to wear shorts or a bathing suit can result in embarrassment and the desire to avoid work get-togethers.
And don’t forget financial issues. Spending money on camps to keep the kids occupied can get pricey. Finding money to take a vacation, can be difficult.
Summer depression can be triggered by struggling through hot days in a uniform, overalls or work boots. For some, not getting relief from the heat can make them feel trapped. Not wanting to cook when you get home can lead to eating fast food, and eating an unhealthy diet can exacerbate depressive symptoms.
Luckily, there are some things we can do to combat the summer blues
Recognize the common triggers for depression. Watch for pressuring yourself with all-or-none thinking and if you find yourself feeling panicky and thinking things like: “I have to go to the family reunion this summer” or, “I have to host everyone at my place” or, “I have to lose weight,” these thoughts can contribute to becoming depressed.
They create pressure when you least need it and imply catastrophic thinking. If body image issues are triggered, beware of starting to diet or binge eat. Focus on eating moderately, getting exercise in a cool place and challenge any negative self-talk. If you feel tired at work, check out your sleep routine. Are you staying up late because it’s expected or easier when the days are longer? Notice if you feel depressed because you associate summer with a difficult time in your life; the death of a loved one, a divorce or empty nests can be associated with depressive symptoms.
Organizations can help
Employers should let workers know that summer depression can happen and what the signs and symptoms are. Things like feeling hopeless or sad most of the time. Loss of appetite and interest in things, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, persistent aches or pains and difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide are all typical of depression, and good employers will be alert to these signs.
While summer itself may be a trigger, employers should continue to watch out for workplace triggers, like too much to do in too little time, unclear priorities, or a lack of control over temperature or light.
Managers should try to be curious rather than punitive if employees are absent. Employers can educate managers in what to look for in employees who may be depressed; including changes in work performance that occur during the summer. Things may be a bit more relaxed, but if work quality suffers it could be a sign. When offering help, talk about the changes you notice and how they are new for the worker. Let them know if anything is on their mind, they can talk to the Employee Assistance Program or use their Extended Benefits to speak to someone in confidence.
If you notice a co-worker suffering, concern is natural
Co-workers are often sensitive to changes in workmates. They notice a shift in mood, or their colleague’s work. The quality changes or they don’t seem to like themselves. If this happens workers can ask how their colleague is doing. Do so, only if you have the kind of relationship that allows for personal conversations and talk to them in private. If your colleague says they’re hurting, help them get the help they need, either through EAP or extended benefits, or their GP.
If you are uncomfortable with asking, alert a trusted manager, HR professional, or safety representative to changes that seem to be prolonged. Do your homework. Ensure you are speaking with someone knowledgeable about what to do, and don’t try to fix it yourself. Helping co-workers get assistance lets them know they’re not alone, and can help lift summer depression.