What is seasonal affective disorder?
The leaves are starting to change, the days are becoming shorter, and soon the temperatures will plummet. If you find that you're not as cheerful as you were during the summertime, you're not alone.
While seasonal changes don't affect everyone the same, you might notice that you have less energy, feel less social, have lost interest in activities, crave lots of carbs, and either have trouble sleeping or want to sleep more than usual.
What causes seasonal mood changes?
Our mood tends to change with the season due to biological and physiological factors, but light is the most significant factor in those mood swings. The length of day is the main thing that affects mood.
Because your body's circadian clock monitors changes in day length, those changes result in mood disruption. The circadian clock also regulates hormone release, temperature, and metabolism. During the fall and winter months, your body produces less serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate mood and contributes to feelings of happiness.
What's more, changing light-dark cycles affect body temperature, how long it takes you to fall asleep, and how much melatonin the body produces. It also influences the production of stress hormones.
In a nutshell, the fall and winter blues are a biological response to changing light levels.
Fall time doesn't have to get you down
If your symptoms aren't that severe, there are a few things you can do to boost your mood:
- Soak up the sunshine. Since lack of light contributes to low mood in the first place, getting as much sunlight as possible is essential. This means you should take a walk outside and open up your blinds. You can also invest in a SAD lamp that mimics natural light.
- Exercise more. Exercise is a huge mood booster and stress buster. It increases the release of feel-good hormones in the brain, helping to alleviate depression.
- Eat healthily. Diet and mood go hand-in-hand. Focus on eating fruits, vegetables, omega-3-rich foods, proteins, and complex carbohydrates to help keep your mood and energy up.
- Spend time with friends. Research has shown that spending time with friends can help relieve stress and provide a sense of well-being.
If your symptoms are more severe or lifestyle changes aren't helping, you might have seasonal affective disorder and should seek professional help immediately.
- "How Does Seasonal Change Affect Your Mood?," Bustle, August 20, 2018.
- "Yes, The Change in Seasons Really Does Affect Your Mood," Huffington Post, October 6, 2016.