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The Cold Dark Winters Effect on Mental Health

The Cold Dark Winters Effect on Mental Health

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over and that December buzzing energy winds down, many come to the realization of the cold winter ahead. The “most wonderful time of the year” turns into a drearier time for a lot of people. Most places experience a change in temperature or weather patterns and see shorter days of light. However, those living in cooler climates may be weary that winter is coming harsher living conditions are expected.

Those living in extreme cold the winters can be brutal both physically and mentally. Cold, rainy and snowy temperatures can keep people inside and away from activities they enjoy doing like exercise, outdoor activities, visiting friends, and even leaving the house at all.

Although not clinically diagnosable, many experience levels of “cabin fever” during these cold snaps. An author wrote in the Atlantic about the psychological effects of being confined indoors during a snowstorm had on her and her family members. General feelings of “boredom, anxiety, irritability, loneliness and restlessness” can develop into full blown cortisol stress response.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

During winter months, mental health issues spike most commonly Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subtype of depression that is caused by a lack of sunlight. Sunlight has a strong effect on a person’s Vitamin D absorption, sleep and overall mood. The change in the amount of sunlight can affect a person’s circadian rhythm and overall biochemistry. Also, when a person spends less time outdoors they are less likely to produce endorphins from exercise or other enjoyable activities. Seasonal Affective Disorder although sometimes deemed “winter blues” is a more serious condition in which professional treatment is necessary. The Harvard Health blog explains, “Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include loss of pleasure and energy, feelings of worthlessness, inability to concentrate, and uncontrollable urges to eat sugar and high-carbohydrate foods.”

Light and Alternative Therapies

If you are prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, simple preliminary accommodations can be made to prepare before the winter months are in full effect. Many purchase a sun lamp, light box or dawn simulators to provide the light that can stimulate cells in the retina and regulate circadian rhythms and ease symptoms. Brain stimulating activities like reading and writing can be just as helpful as physically stimulating exercise. Meditation, aromatherapy and other alternative medicines are also recommended for those prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder. For those able to, taking a vacation to warmer climate destinations can be tremendously beneficial.

Professional Treatment

Some people require more support outside of light therapy and regular exercise. For those that feel their mental health is more severe should seek professional treatment. Speaking to their medical doctors to get proper antidepressant medication may be necessary. Those with severe Seasonal Affective Disorder or depression should  also consider visiting with their therapist on a regular basis. Support groups are also recommended for those experiencing depressive symptoms. If support groups aren’t available, making an effort to talk with friends and family members and maintain social connections is important.