Spring, summer, fall, or winter: no matter which is your favorite season, they all have an effect on you. There are time changes, longer and shorter days, as well as all kinds of weather from sun to snow.
The seasonal changes not only affect your daily activities and behaviors, but science has shown that the seasons can also affect your mood. These changes may not always be obvious to us, but they are there.
You are not alone if you don’t like change. And when the impacts are not obvious, it can be harder to get control over. Knowing how the seasons can impact you and your mood can help your body and mind adapt better to the yearly changes.
The end of Daylight Saving Time brings us that extra hour of wonderful sleep, but it also brings cold and darkness, making it difficult for us to decide if we really like it or not. You may be staying in more on Friday nights without realizing because your body has entered a sort of “hibernation” unbeknownst to you. In fact, the end of DST has been associated with its own set of health problems. (1)
Those dreary, cold and rainy or snowy days make us want to hit snooze, lay in bed all day, and eat comfort foods. The thought of getting ready and facing the outside world is so daunting when you are in your warm, cozy bed.
And why are carbohydrates the go-to food when the weather is so ugly? Once summer is over, your stomach ceases to be satisfied with light salads and fresh fruit and the cravings for carbs take over.
There is a scientific reason behind your brain’s seasonal changes. Once you can understand why the environment has this effect on you, you can prepare yourselves better for this yearly cycle, hopefully without moving to the tropics.
Sadness Without Sunlight
A lack of sunlight can cause a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). (2) People are usually affected by this disorder during the months of October to April, when daylight is scarcer each day.
Little to no sunlight causes your body to produce more melatonin, which is associated with your sleep cycle. This hormone makes you feel sleepy, and you begin to crave afternoon naps.
At the same time, your brain starts producing less serotonin, which is the “happy” hormone that affects your mood, appetite, and libido. Essentially, SAD makes you feel sad; it’s that simple.
Laziness in the Cold
Colder temperatures impact your performance and physical activity because they reduce:
♦ Sensory feedback
♦ Muscle strength
♦ Blood flow
That early morning chill leaves you unmotivated to get out of bed or go to work or the gym. The best way to beat the cold every morning is by piling on the layers and setting aside some time for 15 minutes of stretches. The light movements will help get your blood flowing and warm up the muscles.
Recent studies have found that when the sun is out, you spend more money. The theory is that, because sunlight makes you feel warm and happy, your increased positive outlook encourages shopping.
If you already know that you are a shopaholic, then the shorter days and darker hours may be just what you need to help curb the addiction. You may actually grow to appreciate the colder months as you end up with increased savings in the bank. Maybe planning summer vacation can cheer you up and help pass the time?
The Pain of Rain
Colder months tend to cause decreases in atmospheric pressure, which brings the clouds and rain. The pressure changes cause your body fluids to move easily from blood vessels to tissues, creating added pressure to your joints and nerves.
What you end up feeling are increased aches and pain, reduced motility, and stiffness. The best way to avoid this pain is by switching up your routine when you see rain in the forecast.
For rainy days, give up your cardio workout and try some yoga instead. The stretching and formations of yoga are gentler on your joints and still provide a great workout.
A lack of sunshine and increased rainfall causes your serotonin levels to drop and when these fall, your cravings for carbohydrates increase. Research has shown that eating carbs produces a sudden spike in serotonin levels, making you feel better. Since we know that the colder and darker weather makes us feel depressed, these carbohydrate-loaded comfort foods bring us joy, literally.
The problem is that the happiness is only short-lived, as your serotonin levels will start to fall again. Rather than loading up on carbs and empty calories, then, try starchy vegetables, like potatoes or pumpkin, because you get the carbohydrate boost as well as other beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
When the weather is not inviting, you obviously want to stay indoors. But too much inside time can interfere with your mood. Studies have shown that even as little as 30 minutes outside causes improved mood, memory, and creativity. (3) Take advantage of any nice, sunny weather you get, cold or not, and work off some of that cabin fever.
And if it is a little cold, bundle up. People who take breaks away from their work for a quick stroll and some fresh air have reported being more productive, more open to new ideas, and more energized during the afternoon.
You may not be able to control the weather, but you can control your response to it. Now that you know how the seasons can affect you, you are better prepared to deal with the changes. You can make the necessary adjustments to your diet, behavior, and activities to support your health during each season.
As much as we all love the sun, those colder and darker months are inevitable. You need to make the most of every day and every season; it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.
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