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Seasonal effects on Mood

The winter blues are almost a matter of culture in the UK. the weather gets a bit nippy, the light doesn't quite seem as bright during the day, the clocks go back....

That can turn into early nights, lack of energy or not seeming fussed - for some people this time of year can lead to serious low mood and even depression. For the vast majority it will feel like a sense of needing to slow down.

This affect in mood caused by a change in season is thought to be linked to our internal circadian rhythm (our natural body clock). Research indicates that when the light changes it alters our internal sense of night and day meaning we tend to sleep more, feel sleepier in the daytime and eat more (particularly craving carbs as the hormone grehlin gets released).

It is estimates that up to 16% of the population is affected by some form of seasonal mood disruption - latitude, age and sex all have a bearing on the likelihood of feeling low during Autumn and Winter.

Disrupted sleep is one of the main contributing factors of mood disorders whether they happen to be mild or severe and this seasonal response to the weather can very much disrupt sleep and hence give you a sense of feeling tired, sleeping more, eating more comfort food and just generally not having that zest for life that may come more easily when the weather is clement.

It is worth noting that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) refers to sever clinical depression triggered by the seasonal changes, age, sex and latitude but there is a 'sub-clinical' or less severe form of SAD which is what you or others around you are likely to be impacted by if you (or they) are sensitive to the seasons.

Hormones are key to understanding our reactions and responses in the body. They are often disregarded and only discussed in the negative but when we learn about hormone and the entire endocrine system in the body. We need to think of hormones as the keys to unlock various responses in the body.

As mentioned earlier sleep plays a huge role in mood and Melatonin

is the hormone that is responsible for inducing sleep. When our sleep cycle is disrupted by the change in season, the chance of feeling low, sleepy and hungry are greatly increased. This is due to Melatonin production (i.e. the sleep inducing hormone) being released at odd or irregular times during the day. It is also evidenced that melatonin is released for longer periods throughout winter in those who are predisposed to having altered mood in winter.

Melatonin is not the only puzzle piece that had been studied on the topic of seasonal mood disorder but also a neurotransmitter called Serotonin (that regulates anxiety) and hormone Estradiol (a from of the female sex hormone oestrogen). Research indicates that Serotonin is directly responsive to light (and low light as experienced in winter. Estradiol transports serotonin in the body and as such puts females at greater risk that males.

There is evidence to suggest that some populations living in the more northerly populations may have some natural resistance to seasonal mood plummets. You can also dose yourself with SAD lamps or lights which stimulate neurotransmitters or treatments from your GP that raise serotonin levels until spring comes back around.

Sometimes it is extremely helpful to understand why you aren't felling quite like yourself too and that can reduce anxiety (and free up Serotonin).

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