The end of winter and beginning of spring can be a difficult time for many. Some years winter prolongs its stay, and sometimes spring showers continue into the start of summer. Weather across Canada can be inconsistent with the season. If you close your eyes and think of how the warm sunshine on your face makes you feel, or the sound of rain falling on a tin roof, you can’t deny that your emotions are affected by even the thought of a weather event.
Whether you have a preference for a specific weather occurrence or not, how much of an effect does the weather have on our mood? In this blog we discuss the relationship between seasons, weather patterns, and our emotions.
SEASONS AND MOOD SWINGS
Here in Canada we experience a variety of weather patterns. From hot and dry summers, to wet and cold winters. No matter the province you reside in, you can expect to see a wide range in seasonal activity. The hardest time for many is the winter – especially when it begins early and/or lingers on into our spring. Whether you experience mood swings associated with weather, or know someone who does, understanding mood is very complicated. There are many factors that affect and contribute to changes in mood. There isn’t concrete evidence as to why you may be feeling low when it comes to bad weather, but there are studies that suggest a close relationship between mood and weather.
A 1984 study determined that the amount of sunshine, temperature and humidity a person is exposed to had a great impact on their mood. Your body naturally produces vitamin D when it is directly exposed to sunlight. Research has shown that vitamin D may play a role in regulating mood and decreasing the risk of depression. With longer winters and lower temperatures, you may be avoiding spending time outside which would naturally deplete your intake of vitamin D from the sun. With less activities and less interaction with others, you may start feeling the effects of lack of vitamin D. In addition to the lack of interaction with your family, friends and loved ones, this can have an impact on your mood.
Sleep may also be a major factor in how our mood is affected by the weather. Many living organisms experience a “circadian rhythm”, and humans are no exception. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes” (Sleep Foundation). One of the well known circadian rhythms is the sleep cycle. Our sleep cycles are influenced by many factors, but one of the main influencers is the absence of light. If we are exposed to longer periods of darkness, our bodies may associate that as time to sleep. During the winter months, shorter days and longer nights may affect how alert we are or how sleepy we are feeling. With lower energy, we may want to stay inside and nap more than we would in sunny summer weather.
If you or a loved one is experiencing severe and prolonged changes in mood during winter months, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or as its more commonly known, seasonal depression.
SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
What is SAD? SAD is a type of depression that is closely linked to changes in season. More people are affected by SAD in locations that see major differences in weather patterns throughout the year. With less sunlight and colder weather, some individuals are more susceptible to SAD. SAD is more common in people already diagnosed with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. How do we recognize if someone is experiencing SAD?
Signs and symptoms of SAD:
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Inconsistent sleep patterns and increase in fatigue
- Loss of interest in work, hobbies, people
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Feelings of uselessness, hopelessness, guilt
- Easily agitated
- Trouble concentrating, or memory loss
- Crying or feeling like you want to cry but can’t
Not only are people affected in the winter months by SAD, just like how different our personalities are from our friends and family, our preferences can also vary from person-to-person. Some individuals thrive during the winter months and have adapted to hobbies that make them happy, such as snowboarding, skating, or snowshoeing in the wilderness. Some individuals may find they prefer the cold over the excessive heat of summer. If humidity affects you during the summer, and you long for the cool air inside, you may find your mood is significantly altered in a negative way.If you or a loved one are experiencing SAD, speaking to a professional is a great way to learn the tools to cope with your mood swings. Other treatment options include light therapy, increase in vitamin D, and antidepressant medications.
The winter can be a tough time for many, but if you find you are experiencing extreme mood swings and trouble sleeping, you may be affected by SAD. There are tools to help you cope through this tough time, including speaking to a professional counsellor. If you would like to discuss SAD or any other mental health concerns with our team, or talk to a professional for more information, please contact us HERE.