How Do Seasons Affect Mental Health?

As the seasons shift, so too can our mental health. The changing lengths of days and fluctuations in weather not only alter our environment but also impact our mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. 

Many people hardly notice the effect that annual transitions have on their mental health. But for others, the impact is profound. This can lead to seasonal patterns in mood disorders and other mental illnesses. 

But while the changing seasons can be challenging, there are plenty of effective strategies and treatments to help you navigate them. 

Read on to find out how to protect yourself against seasonal change and maintain mental health resilience year-round.

How Seasonal Changes Impact Mental Health

Seasonal changes can influence anyone’s mental health, not just those with existing conditions like substance use disorder

Experiencing significant mood changes related to the seasons is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder — a recurring type of depression that can happen in the winter or summer months.

The seasonal shifts in sunlight and weather patterns affect serotonin levels and disrupt circadian rhythms, leading to mood fluctuations. These changes can trigger symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. 

Effective interventions include light therapy, behavioral adjustments to align with seasonal variations, and professional support. 

Recognizing the broad impact of seasonal changes is essential for managing and improving mental well-being throughout the year.

Is Mental Health Only Affected by Winter Changes?

No, mental health is not only affected by winter changes. 

It’s true that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is typically associated with the decrease in daylight during late fall and winter, leading to the “winter blues.” 

But seasonal changes in the summer can also negatively affect mental health. “Summer blues” also affects many people, though it manifests differently. 

While winter depression is often characterized by oversleeping, increased appetite, and lethargy, summer SAD symptoms include insomnia, decreased appetite, and increased agitation. 

It’s important to be aware that your mental health can be affected by seasonal factors at any time of the year. Knowing the key signs of SAD can help you recognize its onset sooner and take steps toward treating it. 

5 Signs of Mental Health Issues Caused by Seasonal Change

Each person responds to seasonal change in their own unique way. 

But these five signs have been recognized as key indicators of SAD:

1. Sleeping Too Much or Not Enough

During the winter months, you may find yourself sleeping more than usual. The theory behind this is that less sunlight during winter contributes to higher melatonin levels, making you sleepier than normal. 

On the other hand, people with summer-onset SAD might have reduced melatonin levels, thanks to the hotter, sunnier weather. This makes it difficult to maintain regular, adequate sleep.

2. Eating Issues Like Overeating or Loss of Appetite

Seasonal changes also affect eating habits. This might be due to changes in serotonin levels, which is the hormone that affects appetite and mood. 

People with winter-onset SAD often have lower levels of serotonin. This triggers overeating and cravings for carbohydrates, and can contribute to weight gain. 

Summer-onset SAD usually sees the opposite effect, with increased serotonin levels and decreased appetite. You might crave lighter food, like salads, and experience weight loss.

3. Behavioral Changes Like Withdrawing or Violence

Behavioral changes are a key indicator of mental disorders, including seasonal ones. 

In winter, people may withdraw socially and feel lethargic, whereas, in summer, the same people could display agitation or irritability. 

This may again be linked to hormonal changes, brought on by light and temperature differences. 

4. Increase in Other Mental Health Symptoms

People with mental health challenges are more likely to be affected by seasonal depression. 

This includes disorders such as addiction, depression or bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, eating disorder, anxiety disorder, or panic disorder.

In turn, the seasonal transitions can exacerbate existing mental health conditions. You may find your symptoms intensity with the change of seasons, whether from cold to warm months or vice versa. 

5. Feeling Restless, Agitated, or Disinterested in Life

General feelings of restlessness, agitation, or a lack of interest in life can show up during seasonal changes. 

While winter may induce feelings of worthlessness, social withdrawal, or deep sadness, summer may bring about restlessness or a pervasive sense of agitation.

Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It’s easy to mistake your SAD symptoms for “holiday blues” or other stressors that come up at certain times of the year. 

But recognizing that your symptoms are actually signs of SAD is crucial for timely intervention.

Common signs of SAD include:

  • Persistent low mood, sadness, or feeling listless
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight or appetite depending on the season
  • Altered sleep patterns, such as oversleeping in winter or insomnia in summer
  • Feeling lethargic or agitated, depending on the time of year
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
  • In severe cases, thoughts of death or suicide

If these sound familiar, you or your loved one may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. 

Making self-care a priority is one way to gain some control over your symptoms. Another is to talk to your healthcare provider about possible treatment options to help you feel more stable. 

Treatments for SAD and Other Seasonal Mental Health Issues

If you are facing changes to your mental health due to the weather, no fear. 

There are many treatment options available, and many of these treatments can be found right here at Otter House Wellness through our outpatient programs.

Behavioral Therapy

At Otter House Wellness, we use a range of psychotherapy methods to combat SAD and seasonal mood fluctuations. 

These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT, known as talk therapy), and motivational interviewing. 

Under the guidance of a licensed mental health professional, these methods help you transform negative thought patterns and behaviors into positive ones.

Light Therapy

Light therapy has been a cornerstone treatment for SAD since the 1980s. It involves exposure to a bright light that mimics natural sunlight, which can help reset the body’s internal clock and alleviate depressive symptoms. 

Participants sit in front of a UV-safe light box for 30-45 minutes and absorb the light, which makes up for the weaker natural sunlight outside. For it to be effective, light therapy is usually carried out first thing in the morning, during the fall to spring months. 

Medications

When symptoms are severe, medications such as antidepressants can help. As SAD is linked with serotonin activity, antidepressant medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can be particularly effective. 

Remember that antidepressants can take 4-8 weeks to work, so timing in relation to the changing seasons is crucial. 

Vitamin D Supplement

The human body makes Vitamin D when exposed to natural sunlight. But during the winter months, where levels of sunlight are weaker than in summer, vitamin D production drops. This affects serotonin levels and, in turn, appetite and mood. 

Although more research needs to be done, studies suggest that taking Vitamin D supplements could help to reduce symptoms of SAD. Vitamin D can also be found in food such as oily fish, meat, eggs, and fortified foods. 

Recover from Seasonal Mental Health Issues at Otter House Wellness

If you find that the shifting seasons challenge your mental well-being, remember that you’re not alone, and help is available. 

At Otter House Wellness, we specialize in providing comprehensive care that adapts to your individual needs throughout the year. 

Whether you’re experiencing the winter blues or the summer lows, our team is here to support you with effective treatments and compassionate care.

Don’t let the seasons dictate your mental health. Reach out to Otter House Wellness today and start your journey toward recovery and well-being, no matter the time of year. 

Contact us to learn more about our programs and how we can help you thrive in every season.

Sources

Facility Staff

May 13, 2024

Stethoscope and piggy bank on a blue background. Symbolizing addiction treatment costs in Asheville, NC.
Tranquil forest landscape with flowing stream. Changing seasons affect mental health.

we work with most insurance companies

Insurance coverage will vary across plans, fill out our insurance verification form and we'll provide you with all the details.

Check Your Coverage