Walking out of an afternoon class, you may have been starting to notice a warm hue in the sky: the sun setting. As beautiful as it is, you might pause and question why the sun is starting to go down on your walk home from a 3:30 p.m. discussion section. The seasons are changing, and as we approach mid-November and the colder months, the sun is beginning to rise later, set earlier and the temperatures will drop to dreadful lows. The arrival of winter is routine, however, each year we are struck by its effects in different ways.
Our mental health is noticeably affected by the seasons changing. Our bodies need light, fresh air and time outside. The inability to nurture ourselves during the colder and darker months can take a toll on our minds. Some might say they get the “Winter Blues,” or, in more serious cases, they may even develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). People might sense a change in their mood during these months, including feeling slowed down when days get shorter and darker. One might lose the motivation to wake up, focus on schoolwork or put effort into relationships.
You can also just feel plain down in the dumps during this time.
Your mood is related to the seasonal variation in light that your body receives. So, as the seasons change, your internal clock responds to the changing patterns of sunlight. This change can disrupt your internal clock and how it has synced to your regular schedule. Some can have a difficult time adjusting to the decrease in sunlight, and this can affect their mood.
Along with a change in schedule, a lack of light also disrupts your body’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is the key hormone that provides our feelings of happiness and well-being, which is important for your mood. Another key hormone is melatonin, a sleep-related hormone. Darkness increases the production of melatonin, so when the days are shorter with less light, it can cause a feeling of tiredness and fatigue that affects your mood and behavior.
Younger people are more prone to mood and behavioral changes during the season, so it is important that we take care of ourselves and others around us as we get further into winter. We have to listen to our mood and our energy levels and take steps to stay on schedule and increase serotonin levels in other ways. Make sure to check in with friends and family or try and stay active. The impending short and cold days are daunting, but we are all in it together.
Remember to always seek help if you are struggling. Visit https://www.uhs.wisc.edu/mental-health/ for more resources.