Less sunlight, colder days, longer nights and less time outdoors all can have an impact on your mental well-being, experts say.
In these later months of the year and especially as we get deeper into fall and start to think about winter, many Americans can experience a change in mood — this is common.
Health experts revealed why this happens, how we can handle the changes in our psychological, emotional and physiological health, and what to improve symptoms and mood.
What are the winter blues?
The winter blues, often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), refer to a type of depression that typically occurs during the fall and winter months, when there is reduced exposure to natural sunlight, Ryan Sultan, M.D., a researcher and teaching psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York City told Fox News Digital.
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“It is a recognized mental health condition characterized by changes in mood and behavior that follow a seasonal pattern,” he said.
While many people experience milder mood changes during the winter, SAD represents a more severe and clinically significant form of this condition, Dr. Sultan noted.
What causes the condition?
The exact cause of the winter blues is not fully understood, Sultan said — but several factors are believed to contribute to its development.
Reduced sunlight. One of the primary factors, he said, is reduced exposure to sunlight during the fall and winter months.
“This reduction in natural light can disrupt circadian rhythms and affect the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin, which play crucial roles in regulating mood and sleep,” Sultan said.
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Genetic factors. Additionally, he said, genetic factors, imbalances in certain brain chemicals and changes in melatonin and serotonin levels have been associated with SAD.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder can vary in severity, said Dr. Sultan, but they typically include the following:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness or anxiety
- Low energy and increased fatigue
- Increased need for sleep and difficulty waking up in the morning
- Cravings for carbohydrates and weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Social withdrawal and reduced interest in activities
- Irritability and heightened sensitivity to rejection
“It’s important to note that these symptoms typically occur in the late fall or early winter — and remit in the spring when daylight hours increase,” he emphasized.
How can people boost their mood?
Brandon Santan, PhD, a therapist with Thrivepoint Counseling in Chattanooga, Tennessee, outlined some strategies and approaches for boosting mood and managing the winter blues.
Use light therapy. Consider using a light therapy box that emits bright, full-spectrum light, mimicking natural sunlight.
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“Regular exposure to this light can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with the winter blues and SAD,” Santan told Fox News.
Get exercise. Engaging in regular physical activity, even if it’s indoors, can help improve mood and energy levels. Consider indoor activities like yoga, dancing, or using exercise equipment, he suggested.
Keep a gratitude journal to focus on the positive aspects of life and cultivate a more optimistic outlook, said one expert.
Keep to a sleep schedule. “Stick to a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day,” he said. “Adequate and high-quality sleep can have a positive impact on mood.”
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Watch your diet. Consume a well-balanced diet with a focus on whole, nutritious foods. Be mindful of sugar and carbohydrate intake, he cautioned, which can lead to energy crashes. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, may have mood-boosting effects, he added.
Be social. “Stay connected with friends and loved ones. Socialize and engage in activities with others, even if it means doing so virtually,” continued Dr. Santan. well-being.
Set goals and have structure. Establish achievable daily goals and maintain a routine. This can provide a sense of purpose and accomplishment, he said.
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Practice mindfulness and relaxation. Practice mindfulness meditation or relaxation techniques to manage stress and anxiety. These practices can improve mood and mental
Spend time outdoors. When possible, spend time outdoors during daylight hours.
Even on overcast days, exposure to natural light can be beneficial, Dr. Santan said.
Practice gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal to focus on the positive aspects of life and cultivate a more optimistic outlook, he also said.
Engage in self-care. Engage in practices that you enjoy, such as reading, taking warm baths or pampering yourself in other ways, he suggested.
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