The majority of people report that their mood and energy levels are affected by the change of season. There are many ways in which our emotional health can be impacted during the colder months. Some of the main reasons winter influences us include:
Lack of daylight and sunshine
The exact mechanism by which reduced daylight affects our mood is not fully understood, however, the main theory proposes that it leads to changes in the production of two key hormones: melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin levels are increased and this leads to feelings of sleepiness. Serotonin levels are reduced and this can lead to feelings of depression.
Staying inside more
Cold weather encourages us to stay indoors, which can mean less social interaction and other enjoyable activities, which in turn may contribute to a low mood.
Disruption of the body clock
Circadian rhythm is an internal body process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. When daylight is reduced, we naturally want to sleep more, however, modern lifestyles do not accommodate for this, for example, we are still expected to get up early to go to work and school, and this can lead to a dissonance between the body clock and the daily schedule.
What can we do to feel happier?
Accept the biology
The first step is to acknowledge that it is completely normal to feel a bit sluggish in winter. Practicing self-compassion, kindness, and understanding during these months can go a long way towards feeling better.
Seek out natural light
Take any opportunity to be exposed to natural light. In London in November, the best hours to be out are between 8 am-3 pm, so even if you manage a quick half-hour walk during lunchtime, it will make a difference to how you feel.
Reduce stressful events
If it is possible, consider postponing potentially stressful events, such as a house move or a job change to other months. Of course, this might not be realistic and is dependent on other life factors.
Ramp up self-care
Exercising (preferably outdoors), staying connected with friends and family, and having a healthy diet including 5-a-day are all proven to lift the mood and improve energy levels.
Consider the useful side effects of a bad mood
There is research to show that there is an indirect link between bad weather and improved memory. One study demonstrated when the weather is bad, which makes people grumpy, they tend to correctly remember and recall previously seen items in a shop, significantly outperforming people doing the same task in the sunny weather. This improved ability can be useful both at home and at work.
Know when to seek help
A small percentage of people will develop more severe forms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The symptoms of SAD include persistent low mood, loss of pleasure in everyday activities, irritability, and feelings of despair. If you feel that SAD is having a significant impact on your everyday life, you may consider further treatment options, which include counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and antidepressants.
Fernwood Clinic Team
Read more articles on emotional health from our blog