Updated: Sep 28
The arrival of spring brings longer days filled with sunshine, motivating us to be active. But when the summer sun fades into autumn and winter sets in, many people start to experience a shift in their moods. Depressive symptoms that are tied to changing seasons typically show up in late fall or winter.
Causes of Seasonal Changes in Mood
Why do moods tend to dip when skies turn cloudy and gray? Shorter daylight hours limit sun exposure, leading to a drop in serotonin production, which regulates sleep, appetite, and feelings of calm and focus. Low levels of this neurotransmitter can make it harder to wake up in the morning and easier to overeat carbohydrates. The lack of sunlight also minimizes vitamin D synthesis, which further destabilizes mood. In addition, cooler temperatures keep people cooped up indoors, which can exacerbate feelings of sadness and isolation.
Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes based on the seasons. If you notice your mood plummeting every year as seasons change, you may have SAD. Symptoms include loss of interest in hobbies, low motivation, chronic fatigue, and strong food cravings. Here are some things that can help:
Light therapy, which involves daily exposure to artificial sunlight, can help reset your circadian rhythms.
Antidepressants may also relieve SAD by adjusting serotonin levels.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can provide tools to help reframe negative thought patterns.
Maintaining exercise and social routines can minimize isolation.
Taking vitamin D supplements can help make up for less sun exposure.
Combating the Winter Blues
Even those without SAD can experience the "winter blues." As temperatures drop, people tend to go outside less. Cold air and dry indoor heat can dehydrate and irritate sinuses, causing low energy. The winter holidays can also heighten stress, anxiety, and depression. Self-care strategies like sticking to a regular sleep schedule, exercising, avoiding excessive alcohol intake, and planning leisure activities can help combat the winter blues.
Small adjustments to your lifestyle can help keep general winter doldrums at bay:
Wake up and go to bed at consistent times to stabilize your sleep-wake cycle.
Spend time outdoors on sunny days to replenish vitamin D.
Exercise regularly to relieve stress and boost endorphins.
Eat nutritious, energizing foods and stay hydrated.
Set aside time for hobbies you enjoy.
Plan indoor social activities to maintain connections.
Practice mindfulness and gratitude exercises to manage stress.
Soak up as much natural light as you can indoors.
Seasonal Changes and Their Impact on Women
Women are disproportionately diagnosed with depression disorders compared to men. This means seasonal fluctuations that precipitate depressive symptoms tend to hit women hardest.
Women statistically take on more holiday obligations with shopping, family gatherings, cooking, cleaning, etc. This “second shift” of household duties piles on more stress during the emotionally fraught winter season. Setting realistic expectations about responsibilities, asking for help, and taking time for self-care is essential for women around the holidays.
Women can be proactive against the undercurrents of sadness and tension that arise by making a concerted effort to seek light, maintain healthy routines, manage hormones, and share the workload of seasonal tasks. Taking steps to support emotional health enables women to thrive all year long.
Stay Proactive This Winter Season
The shifting of the seasons significantly impacts our emotional health and well-being. Being aware of these influences allows us to take proactive steps to maintain balance. Remember, the winter blues are often temporary. With proactive self-care, you can bounce back into spring with renewed positive energy.