The calendar officially flipped seasons this week with the arrival of the summer solstice—the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. But summer isn’t all fun and games for everyone.
Maybe life is more complicated with the kids out of school. Maybe you hate the heat. Or maybe you’re prone to seasonal mania at this time of year.
Research tracking hospital admissions for a mood episode has pretty consistently identified seasonal patterns that follow the sun in both hemispheres of the globe. According to a 2013 review of 29 previous studies, approximately 15 percent of people with bipolar I disorder are susceptible to manic episodes triggered by more intense sunlight and longer days.
In an analysis published in June 2015, researchers in India noted that age, sex and climate appear to influence seasonality. They saw a greater degree of spring and summer mania in men.
The subset of people whose mood episodes wax and wane with the seasons probably have an internal “body clock” that’s especially sensitive to the light cues that govern daily rhythms of sleep, appetite, energy levels, social activities, and more. (Seasonality can include depression that arrives in late fall and winter, plus higher risk for mixed episodes in early spring and later in the summer.)
So what to do if you want to fend off summer mania? “Simply knowing that one is at risk for developing a mania with the change of seasons is a major step forward,” explains psychiatrist Melvin G. McInnis, MD, FRCPsych.
When you live with bipolar disorder, summer sunshine is welcomed after a dark winter, but watch out for a manic episode… I seem to get manic every summer—why?
The coming of spring and summer reenergizes all the senses. The warm sun, the beauty of nature, the smell of flowers, the sound of a soft breeze through the willows—it is all so stimulating and so wonderful! The sun seems brighter, being higher in the sky, and there is more of it. Personally, I love spring. I feel more energy, and I love waking up to the sound of birds outside my window. Everything is more colorful and enjoyable. The feeling of being attuned to the world is a fundamental element of humanity.
Many individuals notice a welcome change from the winter doldrums with the boost that spring brings. Among individuals with bipolar disorder, however, the changing of the seasons can be somewhat of a challenge due to the energizing effects of increased sunlight.
Bipolar disorder amplifies emotions and energy. When spring and summer experiences get intense, everything bipolar resonates … but things can go wrong very quickly. Often the first warning sign is a decreased need for sleep. With the renewed feelings of energy and enthusiasm, who needs rest? Suddenly, there is so much to do and see! Ideas come quickly and just seem to be right on the money, and others laugh at the witty jokes … at first. It is a wonderful feeling! The thirst for romance is enhanced and the beautiful people at the sidewalk cafes are more sensual that ever. Humanity is buzzing with social engagement.
But the momentum in the moods of bipolar disorder often goes well beyond healthy limits and can result in hypomania or mania. It can be very difficult to recognize the difference between a good day becoming a great day, and a good day becoming an absolute disaster. Before you know it, you can find yourself in the throes of a full-blown mania, and self-control flies out the window.
What is summer mania, and how can I keep my mood stable?
Summer mania can be a feature of seasonal effective disorder, a specifier of a pattern of illness that can be applied when a mood disorder occurs predictably at a specific time of year. Summer mania can occur on its own, but is more common following low moods over the fall and winter seasons. There is no specific treatment for summer mania beyond the regular treatment of mania itself.
Successful management of summer mania begins with prevention. Simply knowing that one is at risk for developing a mania with the change of seasons is a major step forward.
Here are some simple strategies to help maintain stability:
- Get enough sleep, and maintain a regular routine. Staying awake late into the night can throw off a routine and destabilize mood.
- Stay away from intoxicating substances, as they also can destabilize mood.
- Healthy living involves a balanced diet and a modest amount of exercise; avoid excesses.
- Communicate with your family and friends. Let them know that summer is a risky time for you, and ask them to help keep an eye on your mental health.
- Avoid taking on major projects that will result in undue stress.
- Talk to your health-care provider about a contingency plan if you suddenly find yourself not needing sleep or over-energized.
- Take time to relax and be peaceful.
A strategic plan focused on prevention will help tremendously; however, this is not always enough to prevent an acute manic episode. It is wise to provide a family member or friend with a health directive that authorizes them to seek help from the authorities to transport you to the nearest emergency room for a medical evaluation—just in case.
I often liken an acute episode of bipolar disorder to a heart attack or other medical emergency: immediate attention could save your life.
Printed as “Ask the doctor: Summer mania,”