Summer has come and gone leaving a distant memory of the warmth of summer fun. In its place is winter, with its short cloudy days and cold stormy nights. Have you ever found yourself feeling a little depressed during winter? If yes, you are not alone. Many people are affected by the winter blues, so many there is actually a medical name for the disorder. Doctors call it Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short, how fitting of an acronym. While some people are only mildly affected by depression during the winter months some have more severe cases. Winter months bring with them cold weather, less daylight hours and holidays, all of which can be the cause for depression.
Winter brings cold temperatures for most of the country. The change in temperature can cause us to spend less time outside doing fun and social activities. This means less time socializing with friends and family at a barbecue the way we did over the summer months. The lack of socialization and restriction of fun activities can cause us to feel sad and depressed especially if you are someone who thrives in social situations. Social isolation can have a serious affect on your mood and leave you feeling depressed.
Often time in the winter instead of going outdoors we spend most of our time inside, cozying up on the couch snacking on your go to comfort foods. This brings on a whole new set of problems. Poor diet can cause us to feel sluggish and lazy. It can cause weight gain that might damage your self esteem. Plus more time on the couch means less time staying active.
Inactivity can cause us to feel depressed. Regular exercise is key in helping us feel good and in lifting our spirits. Exercise releases a feel good chemical to our brain called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in our brain that is responsible for us in experiencing feelings of pleasure and happiness. Exercise also helps to minimize stress. If the winter months are keeping you indoors the lack of exercise can cause stress to build up. Built up stress can cause one to feel anxious and even induce bouts of insomnia, all of which have a major impact on health and the way you feel.
Another factor winter brings is less daylight hours. It begins to get darker earlier and earlier. Eventually it will get dark before most of us are even off of work. This can cause us to feel depressed because we get tired faster due to the lack of sunlight. It may start to feel as if there is not enough time in the day to get anything done. The shorter days throws off our internal biological clock, and you may not feel up to doing the things you once did.
Even on our days off we may not be feeling as well as we did in the summer sun. With winter comes cloudy days. The lack of natural sunlight sets off a hormone in our bodies produced by the pineal gland called Melatonin. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy. Winter causes the days to get dark earlier, making us feel sleepy sooner. It also cause the sun to rise later, making us feel sleepy longer and making it harder to wake up in the morning. Another chemical in our body affected by the winter’s lack of sunlight is one called Serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in our brains that helps relay messages. Low levels of serotonin has widely been linked with depression and the lack of sunlight brought on by winter can cause serotonin levels in our bodies to drop, causing depression.
The last factor to cover are the numerous holidays in the winter months. This can often be overlooked as a cause to winter depression because generally when one thinks of holidays they do not feel overwhelmed with sadness. However there are many things to consider as to why these holidays can bring you down. The obvious reason is the over abundance of holiday shopping. We shop for gifts for loved ones, food for gatherings and donations to charities. All of this spending often leads to a financial crisis where we begin to feel as though we are drowning in debt. Overspending during the holiday months can cause a burden and bring up feelings of depression.
Another element that can affect your mood during this time is the exhaustion of holiday events can bring. We are going to one holiday party to the next and often are left feeling over scheduled and stressed out. We can feel like there is little time to relax and have a quite moment of peace. With all of these holiday parties it often results in over drinking and eating. We have gone over the effects of overeating already but in the case of over drinking it can have many effects to your body. Alcohol can affect your hormones and mess with your sleep cycle, both of which are already affected by the winter days and lack of sunlight.
The rush of holidays in the winter months can also bring on a feeling of being left out if you are someone who does not have many or any holiday events to attend. This can cause you to feel depressed during these times. For some of us, the holidays bring back a sense of nostalgia and can bring reminiscing thoughts of loved ones who are no longer with us. These thoughts can bring a sadness to your heart and coinciding with everything else we have covered it can cause depression for a lot of us.
There are many contributing factors to winter causing depression and it is important to talk to your doctor if you ever feel overwhelmed or helpless. If you find yourself feeling a little down during the winter months remember the factors we covered and try to counteract them. It is important to stay active during the winter season getting plenty of regular exercise. If it is too cold to do your normal exercises then perhaps look into a gym membership near you. If you are feeling blue do to lack of socialization try hosting a dinner at your place for friends and family. While it may be more enticing to stay curled up on the couch it is important to continue your social activities. Don’t let holiday spending get you down. Make a budget and stay within it. A good tip is to start holiday shopping early that way you can spread the expenses over a matter of time instead of all at once. If the budget is tight, try to do a Secret Santa with your family where everyone exchanges only one gift with a spending limit. Remember to watch what you eat and drink responsibly. Don’t let the winter months get you down, it is only a matter of time before summer will come!