The Science Behind the Winter Blues

And tips to beat it

Let me preface this article first and foremost by saying that winter blues is not a medical diagnosis. I am not talking about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which is a major type of depression. Symptoms of the winter blues normally clear themselves up in a short period of time and are more mild in nature. It is not unusual to feel symptoms of the winter blues, however, if you find that you are being affected by extreme symptoms over a long period of time please reach out to an adult or health care provider.

Scientifically speaking, we all have a biological clock a.k.a. our circadian rhythm that tells our bodies when to be asleep and when to be awake. Our circadian rhythm responds to light. Therefore, as winter sets in and the sun rises later and sets earlier, we tend to become sleepier as our biological clock reacts to the reduced amount of natural light. Studies on mice have shown that an out of whack circadian rhythm can lead to weight gain, impulsivity, slower thinking, and other biological and psychological effects. Even more concerning, the study found that the disrupted mice had shrunken brains and less neurons firing to their pre-frontal cortex which is involved in planning, decision making, personality expression, and social behavior. Needless to say it is understandable that some of us may feel a bit off when winter sets in and our circadian rhythm is knocked off course.

Now that that’s over and done with. Let’s talk about the symptoms of the winter blues.

  • Lack of motivation
  • Temptation to stay home (and hibernate)
  • Craving comfort foods
  • Sleeping longer
  • Mood swings/moodiness
  • Tough to get out of bed

Sound familiar? Sorry, you’re not entitled to any sort of compensation, but there are a few things that might help:

  • Take morning or midday walk
  • Get outside as much as possible
  • When inside, get as much natural light as possible
  • Make plans with friends or family
  • Focus on the good things about winter: This one I think is really important. Especially during this time of year, we tend to focus on the negative characteristics of winter like how numb our hands are, how we can’t go to the beach or the pool, or how it gets dark earlier. Instead of letting those thoughts take up your time and energy, concentrate on what makes the winter season special. Winter holidays, days off from school, cozy sweaters, candles, hot chocolate, fuzzy socks, and Christmas movies are just a few among good things about winter.
  • Get enough sleep, don’t mess up your circadian rhythm any more than it already is
    • Try as hard as you can to get off your phone for a bit before you go to bed. The light from your phone confuses your biological clock by making you think that its still daytime and prevents you from falling asleep and having restful sleep.
    • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day

I wish each and every one of you the best possible luck in fighting off the winter blues. Be kind to one another because even if you’re feeling down someone may be feeling the exact same and just need a smile or a laugh.