The Mental Effects of Winter Weather

Winter weather can elicit different responses, depending on the severity. Early winter often brings the excitement of new coats and first snowfalls. Prolonged cold and overcast skies, however, eventually take a toll on one’ health. Mental health can be a serious concern in many places, especially in areas where it stays dark around the clock. Here is what is happening to your brain during the winter months.


The proper name for a seasonal change in mood is Seasonal Affective Disorder. This situation can appear on its own or in addition to regular anxiety and depression. Those with ongoing disorders should take extra care during the winter months. Symptoms can range from a generic feeling of depression to irritability and sleep complications. S.A.D. can severely debilitated individuals in extreme cases.

Length of Days

Days become shorter in the winter. As fall gets well underway, the sun sets earlier and earlier. Suddenly the drive home from work is done entirely in the dark. Melatonin levels are easily affected by these changes. Some people find themselves not sleeping soundly, while others feel like sleeping all the time. Your body may be signaled to go to bed earlier and sleep longer. This allows for less time to accomplish daily goals and may leave some people feeling inadequate. Some areas are covered in complete darkness for weeks on end. Twenty-four-hour darkness with natural daylight often takes its toll. Overcast skies can also contribute to the issue.

Lack of Sun

Sunlight is an important part of staying healthy. It helps to provide the body with vitamin D. Sunlight also contributes to the production of serotonin. Low levels of this neurotransmitter can quickly lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Natural circadian rhythms help set your body’s timing for the day. Small changes, such as daylight savings time, also interrupt these rhythms. When these rhythms are disrupted, sleep disturbances and depression can surface. Sunlight is essential for optimal health.


There are some fairly easy remedies to help deal with S.A.D. Vitamin supplements can help to replenish low levels of essentials. Special lamps are available that produce ultraviolet light. These lamps mimic the sun’s rays and can be displayed in the home. Diet and exercise should be a priority during the winter months, as well. If weather permits, a small amount of time should be spent outdoors each day. Natural sunlight is the best remedy.  One hour is preferable, however, this is not always tolerable in extremely cold climates. The natural sun exposure during outdoor time will make the largest impact on recovery. Bundle up and take a brisk walk for your health.

Winter weather and light patterns can be extremely disruptive to many different aspects of the body. Sleep, mood, and hormone production can be affected. You don’t have to hibernate like a bear to survive the winter, however. Preparation with special lighting, outdoor clothing, and vitamin supplements can help. Mental health can be managed during the colder months with proper skills.

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