Though the pandemic has made the last couple of winters especially brutal, with little respite during the summers of quarantine, winter is always hard. As seasons change, and temperatures rise and drop, we evince transitory mood swings that researchers don’t quite understand just yet. For now, animal behavior is our best guide to our seasonal highs and lows, more aptly referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Seasonal breeders, such as birds, are greatly affected by day length, in particular with respect to hormones. As day length increases, male birds experience a testosterone surge, and migratory species become restless and start their seasonal migration. Though we aren’t seasonal breeders, our brains have similarly complex responses to day length. SAD occurs most commonly in “highly seasonal places distant from the equator where day length in winter is very short and triggers severe depression in vulnerable individuals,” per Psychology Today. New York falls into that highly seasonal category, which means we have to tolerate whatever the seasons throw at us, rain or shine.
For those who don’t mind a winter chill, being confined at home during extreme cold still interferes with our regular activities, resulting in lower moods. Of course, “the demotivating effect of extreme summer heat is similar to that of extreme winter cold. Both are stressful, tending to increase anxiety and lower mood,” driving home the fact that all extreme temperatures affect us negatively.
But it’s not so apparent, scientifically speaking, that the change of seasons affects our mood. There is actually little evidence that climate has any true impact on mood or mental health. Indeed, humans are incredible at adapting to the physical conditions we find ourselves in, including uncomfortable temperatures. If you feel your body simply cannot handle the cold, it is likely just because you’re not accustomed to it as someone in, say, Alaska or Minnesota might be.
SAD may not be a real mental illness, but I can personally vouch for the its real effects–and I know many others can too.
– Juliet Weschke, Writer
Source: Psychology Today