Does Winter Affect Mental Health Symptoms?

Does Winter Affect Mental Health Symptoms?

For those who live in places that experience long, harsh and cold winters, the effects of the season can take a large toll. For those who also suffer from mental health symptoms, the dark months can be the most difficult. You might be asking yourself why this is, and what effects winter can possibly have on the brain. Learn why winter affects mental health, what symptoms to watch out for, and how the problems can be treated.

The Effects of Winter on Body and Brain

In winter the days are darker, the temperature is colder, and the air is dryer. This extreme combination of factors your body experiences can affect it negatively. In addition to experiencing dry, cracked skin and lips due to dry, cold air, you will also get less sunlight, and do less physical activity. The varying hours of daylight, and variations in levels of exercise affect both your body and mind. Lower levels of sunlight will negatively affect your circadian rhythm and your sleep wake cycle. A lower quality of sleep will negatively affect your brain, and can both lead to and exacerbate mental health problems.

In addition, the lower levels of sunlight will lead to the body producing less vitamin D, resulting in a lower level of vitamin D in the bloodstream and in the brain. Vitamin D is important for various processes in the brain, and chronically low levels of vitamin D will put you at risk for various neurological and psychiatric symptoms. The lack of physical movement and exercise will also negatively affect your body and brain.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

These factors can exacerbate pre-existing symptoms such as depression, and can also lead to new symptoms. When winter brings about a state of depression in those who otherwise experience a normal mental state, this is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. It is also known as winter depression, or winter blues. Those affected will experience symptoms of depression such as lack of energy, apathy, oversleeping, and even becoming suicidal in severe cases. Sometimes patients display symptoms of bipolar disorder, with mania in the summer and depression in the winter. All in all, the effects of winter can lead to a worse state of mind, by altering the molecular milieu within the brain via its environmental influences.

How to Tackle Winter Blues

One treatment for SAD is light therapy, where patients are exposed to a very powerful lamp that mimics the effects of the sun. Sitting in front of these lamps for a few minutes per day can lighten your mood and alleviate your symptoms. In addition, keeping a good routine of sleep and wake, standardized by alarms and good sleeping habits, as well as routine physical exercise, can definitely help. In extreme cases medication might be necessary.

Winter Blues and Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you love needs help with depression or addiction, please call our toll-free helpline. Our treatment specialists are standing by 24 hours a day to help.