Mr. Golden Sun, Please shine down on me…
Very often during the Fall and Winter, we hear in therapy with our clients, “this weather doesn’t help much”. It is true that the cold, damp and dreary days of winter can result in us feeling down, depressed, and tired. For people struggling with Mental Health problems such as Depression, Anxiety, and Chronic Pain, the weather seems to exacerbate their problems. For some, their mood changes so drastically in the Winter that they may be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression characterized by a pattern of high and low mood depending upon the season.
Why does our cold Canadian winter make us feel so crappy? Why does the warmer weather suddenly make us feel better? How can we make the most of the warm Spring and Summer months?
There are a couple of possible explanations for why our moods are more negative in the Winter. The first is a decrease in Vitamin D which impacts the level of Serotonin (a chemical that controls our moods) in the brain. Major sources of Vitamin D include: foods such as fish, egg yolks and other dairy products; supplements (which many people take during the Winter months); and most of all, sunlight. With the reduced number of light hours during the winter, and the fact that most people are at work during those light hours, we are exposed to less Vitamin D during these cold months. Another theory suggests that Humans have adapted to have a decreased activity level in the Winter to cope with the lack of available food sources. The problem is that decreasing activity level may result in people spending less time with others and less time exercising leading to feelings of stress, loneliness, and sadness.
Now that the warm Summer weather has arrived, it becomes easier to leave the comfy confines of our couches and be outside. Our bodies finally receive some of that much-needed Vitamin D through the bright sunshine that lasts well into the evening. Typical summer activities provide benefits of physical activity and social connection. Those neighbourhood and family BBQs allow us to be around and reconnect with others. Walking, running or bicycling outdoors provides double the benefits of Vitamin D from the sun and the release of Endorphins from exercise which decreases stress and increases our sense of well-being and happiness. Even regular activities such as walking the dog and playing outside with children or grandchildren become more enjoyable and allow us to unwind. Gardening can also be therapeutic in providing physical activity as well as a sense of purpose and the enjoyment of creating something beautiful to appreciate for months to come. To take full advantage of these beautiful summer days, get off the couch, away from the TV and computers and into the great outdoors!