Autumn is my favorite season — but as the summer sunshine fades away into a cool breeze; the pink roses wilting and giving way to fall leaves, I nonetheless find myself dreading the change every year.
Why, you ask? Because the weather negatively impacts how I experience symptoms of depression. And the change in seasons could be impacting you, too!
Between one and ten percent of the world population suffers from a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. This subtype of depression indicates depressive episodes that wax and wane with the seasons.
For the majority of patients, SAD means they get depressed during the winter, and don’t start to feel better until the weather warms up. However, SAD can occur at anytime — particularly if a certain season triggers memories of a traumatic event, like a death in the family or an accident experienced by a loved one.
Yet many of us experience a shift in our moods when the seasons change, even if it doesn’t signify a full-blown psychiatric disorder. For example, we all know what it feels like to experience the “winter blues” — that horrible feeling of being cooped up inside in the cold, when all you want to do is sunbathe on the beach in your bikini. And if, like me, you suffer from major depression, you can still experience a change in symptoms with the change in the seasons.
As autumn creeps closer, Bustle writes that many of us will experience symptoms of SAD, such as low mood, irritability and, yes, cravings for comfort food. (Could this explain the pumpkin spice obsession once and for all?! I still don’t get it.)
Here are some of the other ways the weather can affect your mood — and what you can do about it when the fall in temperature starts to get to you.
How the Weather Affects Your Mood
Ever noticed how we associate certain colors, weather and feelings? For example, we think of sunshine as yellow, and yellow as a happy color. Alternatively, many of us think of rain as blue, and blue as a sad color.
Knowing this, it should come as little surprise that the weather can affect our mood in more ways than one. Here are just a few of the ways the weather can impact how you’re feeling.
Lack of Sunlight
As one of my favorite Instagram posts goes, “Don’t forget to get water and sunshine, because you’re basically a houseplant with more complicated emotions.” And it’s true! We need sunshine, just as all living creatures do, to function optimally. Sunlight encourages vitamin D production, which we need for strong bones among other things.
One of the reasons why SAD typically affects people during the winter months is due to deprivation from sunlight. From October to April, Bustle writes, daylight becomes scarce, causing our bodies to produce more melatonin. Melatonin can make you sleepy, triggering your brain to slow its serotonin production…. and therefore contributing to feelings of depression.
Yup, there’s a scientific reason why you don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning! (Still, that’s no excuse to stay in bed watching puppy videos until 11am…. Mostly talking to myself here, but I know you feel me.)
Cold temperatures require subtle adjustments from your body. To compensate for the cold, your body decreases its energy expenditure, explaining why you may feel lethargic and move more slowly during the winter months. Your heart also works harder to pump blood in cold weather, potentially contributing to feelings of fatigue.
Heat and Rain
Most of us don’t love to sweat (with the exception of exercise for some), nor do we love to be soaking wet. But how much do humans hate the heat and rain, really? According to researchers, the answer may be extreme! Some studies have found as much as a 14 percent increase in human aggression during extreme heat and rain.
However, it’s important to note that these studies measure correlation, not causation. So, while we can’t really prove that heat or rain causes aggression, we can at least draw the conclusion that bad weather could make you cranky.
Likewise, the weather won’t ‘make’ you suicidal — but researchers have noted seasonal trends in the national suicide rate. Following the high profile suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, Forbes reported that the warm weather of late spring and early summer is associated with more suicides.
While the weather can’t predict suicide risk (more important risk factors include genetics, previous suicide attempts, mental illness and substance abuse), this correlation could be a sign to check in with your feelings and focus on self-care during the spring and summer months.
How to Fight Seasonal Depression
We’ve established that the weather can impact the way you experience symptoms of depression, or simply give you the “winter blues.” But when cold weather gets you down, what exactly can you do about it?
Soak In the Sunshine
Lack of light during the winter months frequently triggers SAD — which is why some therapists prescribe therapy lamps to their patients during the winter months. These lights, such as the Verilux Happy Light (my personal brand of therapy lamp!), use bright, full-spectrum light that mimics sunshine. Just 30-60 minutes a day can make a huge difference in how you feel during the colder months.
Grow a Plant
That succulent addiction could actually help you beat the winter blues! Plants have therapeutic benefits: indoor plants can boost your mood, reduce stress levels and even boost productivity by up to 15 percent. Of course, if you’re anything like me (and my mother before me), you probably kill everything you touch — in which case, I recommend starting off your home garden with a hearty cactus, which can survive long stretches without water.
Practice Daily Gratitude
I can’t stress enough the importance of practicing gratitude — and keeping a gratitude journal — for anyone who experiences any type of depression. Writing down what you’re grateful for just three times per week can make you feel happier…. happier, even, than keeping a journal every day. So, go ahead. Become one of those cheesy “gratitude girls.” After all, it’s good for you!
Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Sometimes, no amount of cozy candles or warm, fuzzy blankets can cheer us up in the wintertime — and that’s okay. Time to turn to a professional for help! Seek out a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been found to be just as effective as light therapy in treating SAD. And always remember: there’s no shame in seeking help!