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August blues are real: How to cope with summer depression

There can be something unsettling about August. For many people, the month creates "a feeling of funk, a feeling of down, a feeling of sadness."
/ Source: TODAY

There can be something unsettling about August.

Hot and sticky, it’s summer on full blast, roasting a person's mind and body. Offices and neighborhoods are ghost towns as people take off on the last vacation before school starts. Nothing gets done.

Yet, the days are getting shorter and fall is on the horizon. Maybe it's time to crank up Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness.

Feeling the August blues? You’re not alone.

For some, the sadness comes from realizing that most of the year is already behind us, with Halloween and holiday ads looming. Even Starbucks seems to be rushing fall, with the company expected to bring back the Pumpkin Spice Latte at the end of this month — earlier than ever.

Poet Sylvia Plath put it this way: “August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.”

August has “all ingredients for a stew of blues,” said Joshua Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor in the School of Public Health at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“For many people, it creates a feeling of funk, a feeling of down, a feeling of sadness,” Klapow told TODAY. “For a small percentage, it creates seasonal affective disorder.”

Here’s why you may be feeling down:

You’re stuck indoors

If you live in a very hot and humid location, you’re forced indoors, and your exposure to natural sunlight can diminish compared to the spring and fall, Klapow said.

“Extreme temperatures can bring us inside. It tantalizes us, so we look outside and it looks beautiful out, but we can’t go outside. That can put us in a funk,” he added.

Your schedule can be chaotic

That’s especially true for parents trying to plan activities and vacations when school is out, or scrambling to prepare for back-to-school time in August.

You’re overwhelmed by nostalgia

For a lot of adults, August is a reminder that summer is no longer about carefree times at the pool or the beach. You think, “What did I used to do as a child but maybe I can’t do now because I’m working?” Klapow noted.

Your habits change

During the summer, you stay up later, go out more during the week and your eating habits may not be ideal, but you still have to go to work. That summer pattern wears your body down.

You’re overwhelmed by the heat

The heat and humidity can wear you out physiologically. There is the perception that the environment is punishing. “We call them the dog days of summer. It slows everything down, it slows our metabolism down. That can throw people into a funk,” Klapow said.

You feel alone

Perhaps everyone around you seems to be having a blast or going off on vacation, while you’re stuck in an empty office. Social media increases the intensity of the notion that “everybody is having a good time, except for me,” Klapow noted.

You feel time passing

When August comes around, you may ask yourself: Summer is almost over, where did it go? There’s a sadness to the ending of the season, plus a time pressure component — “We’re eight months into the year.”

You have reverse seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

“You can see people develop full-blown depression that is triggered by the summer months,” Klapow said. Experts believe summer SAD affects less than 1 percent of the population, making it much rarer than the winter variety. Symptoms include decreased appetite, trouble sleeping, irritability and weight loss.

How to deal:

Take care of your body: Your physiological health has a huge bearing on your emotional health, Klapow said. If you’re in a funk, limit alcohol and junk food, get enough sleep and exercise.

Engage in activities you like: “What you can’t do is allow the funk to isolate you,” he advised. Spend time at the pool or go to a movie. Force yourself to do things that you would normally find pleasurable.

Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by social media: Remind yourself that for every vacation picture your friends post, there are 400 photos of them not having fun, Klapow advised.

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