Winter Often Negatively Impacts Many People’s Moods
As the year comes to a close, winter is quickly approaching. Many people enjoy this time of year, while many can’t stand it. However, your mental health may be affected as the days get shorter, and the weather gets colder. Many people don’t understand just how much of an effect the weather can have on your mood. The changes in temperature and sunshine can have unexpected results for many people.
While the winter is a time for joy thanks to the holiday season, many people see their mental health negatively impacted. According to the Cleveland Clinic, roughly half a million people in the United States suffer from a condition known as seasonal affective disorder. Another 10 to 20% suffer from a milder condition called the “winter blues.”
Even though these conditions are uncommon, they can still drastically affect your quality of life during the winter. Lifeworks Counseling Center is here to help you understand how winter can affect your mood and mental health.
The Effects on Your Body
In the winter, the days are much shorter than they were during the summertime. While this change may not seem significant in the grand scheme of things, it can impact your mental health greatly.
Sunlight plays a large role in your overall health and your mental well-being. With reduced levels of sunlight, both can be reduced. Because of this lack of contact with the sun’s rays, your body’s circadian rhythm is disrupted. As many of you may know, your circadian rhythm is your body’s natural sleep cycle. Sleep is incredibly important to your overall health and well-being.
Many individuals believe that a lack of sunlight also affects your brain chemistry. Connecting to sleep, the decrease in sunlight prompts your body to produce far more melatonin than usual. Melatonin is the chemical that controls your sleep patterns. Increased levels of melatonin not only interrupt your sleep cycles, but it can also drastically affect your mood, making you feel more tired, irritated, and sluggish.
The levels of neurotransmitters in your brain are affected, as well. One chemical that is impacted is serotonin. Serotonin’s job is to transmit information throughout your body through nerves. Many experts consider this the brain’s “happy chemical.” It has a big influence on your mood.
Your vitamin D intake is also lowered in the winter. The rays the sun emits contain vitamin D your body needs. While it can help your body in countless ways, it can also improve your mental health. Vitamin D helps regulate your brain function and behavior by balancing serotonin production.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Earlier, we briefly mentioned seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In the past, we discussed how SAD can affect you in the summer. While many do experience summer seasonal affective disorder, it occurs far more often in the winter.
SAD is a form of depression that occurs whenever the seasons change. For winter SAD, it usually begins near the end of fall and continues until the beginning of spring.
This type of depression is marked by recurring instances of depression during a particular time of year. When mental health professionals diagnose individuals with SAD, they check to see if they have shown symptoms of major depression for at least two consecutive years during the same season. Those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder only experience depression in a seasonal pattern, but not outside this period.
Important symptoms to keep an eye out for include:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Less energy
- Lack of interest in activities that used to bring you joy
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling sluggish
- Fluctuating appetite
- Weight loss or gain
- Feelings of sadness that affect everyday activities
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
Seasonal affective disorder is similar to the “winter blues,” but they are very different. These symptoms tend to last for the majority of the season, lasting as long as five months. For those with the “winter blues,” they may only experience these symptoms for a few days before they begin to go away.
Interestingly, the rates of suicide are lower in the winter than they are in the spring, even though SAD is more common in the winter.
Treating Your Mood in the Winter
Many people may feel like it is difficult to maintain good mental health over the winter months. After all, the days are shorter, and there are fewer opportunities to get out of the house. However, there is still plenty you can do to help boost your mental health over the winter. If you do suffer from winter SAD, there are many treatments available to you to ensure that your mental health is properly taken care of:
- Light therapy: This form of treatment has been in use to treat SAD since the 1980s. Therapists use it to replace the reduced amount of sunshine received in the fall and winter with bright, artificial light. Typically, you sit in front of a lightbox for 20 to 60 minutes a day that emits 10,000 lux of light, which is 20 times greater than normal indoor lighting.
- Medication: If your symptoms do persist and become severe, your therapist may recommend the help of certain medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
- Therapy: Many individuals that suffer from SAD have found that seeking counseling from a trained therapist has helped them manage their depression.
There are other ways that you can help treat or prevent SAD or the “winter blues,” including:
- Going outside every morning to get natural light
- Taking vitamin D supplements
- Taking melatonin supplements
As the seasons change and the weather gets colder, people begin to experience many changes in their bodies. Some of them can be good, but not all of them. For some, their mental health often begins to suffer during the winter months. If you or a loved begin to experience symptoms of depression, do not hesitate to contact Lifeworks Counseling Center.