Don’t let your mood fall with the temperatures

Payton Schield

Temperatures are dropping, days are shortening, leaves are falling and birds are heading south. With all of these factors, it’s a no brainer that moods will fluctuate. Students may notice a certain gloominess as the seasons change, but contrary to popular belief, it may not be all in your head. There is a scientific explanation to this occurrence, and there are ways to handle it. 

During the warmer seasons, the average person is more likely to spend time outside in the sun. When sunlight hits the human eye, photoreceptors send messages to the brain that instruct it to regulate serotonin levels—conserving serotonin and triggering the release of it. Serotonin, also called the “happy molecule,” is a chemical in the brain that sends signals to nerve cells and stabilizes emotions. The sun’s contribution to serotonin levels plays a big role in why most people are happier in the summer and springtime. 

However, without the sun, serotonin levels can drop, which can lead to trends of a more depressed mood. In the colder seasons, spending time outside is significantly less comfortable and sunlight becomes harder and harder to enjoy. In addition to an already significant drop in mood, daylight savings time causes shorter days and darker evenings, at least in Chicago where it gets dark at 5:00 p.m. This change in lighting triggers the release of melatonin in our brains. Melatonin sends signals to the brain that tells it when it’s time to sleep, and when it gets released earlier, we’re left with less energy in the evening.  

With all that being said, the seasons absolutely affect mood—but that does not equate to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Only 4-6% of people actually have this disorder, according to the American Family Physician. To be considered for a diagnosis, an individual must have two or more consecutive occurrences of depressive episodes at the same time each year, subsiding for the remainder of the year. If one feels they could have the disorder, they should visit a doctor to be properly diagnosed and treated. 

There are ways to mitigate the low moods that the gloomy weather can prompt. First and foremost, increase time spent in well lit environments. Keep blinds and curtains open throughout the day, spend time outside if the weather permits, and consider a light box. Light box therapy is a common treatment for SAD, but is beneficial even for individuals who don’t have the disorder. Light boxes can provide more light to the day, boosting serotonin levels. Verywell Mind compiled a list of light boxes available for purchase that meet requirements for treatment. In addition to light boxes, there is a sunlight lamp on the list that wakes you up using an artificial, but effective, sunrise, making for an immediate release of serotonin every morning. 

Another important way to keep your mood up is to stay active. Exercising quiets the sympathetic nervous system, which can lower stress. On top of that, it triggers the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine which boosts the mood. Exercising also leads to an increase in confidence and self efficiency. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adolescents get an hour of physical activity daily, and adults get between 150-300 minutes throughout the week. 

A proper sleep schedule is also vital to maintaining year-round mental health. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “…neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.” Ensuring that you get enough sleep, especially as a teenager, is important for the developing brain. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers (14-17 years old) get 8-10 hours of sleep, and young adults (18-24) get 7-9 hours of sleep. In addition to getting a healthy amount of sleep, it is important to pay attention to your sleep cycles. Not completing an entire sleep cycle leaves you fatigued and not well rested; to ensure you don’t wake up in the middle of a sleep cycle, use a website like sleepyti.me that tells you what time to fall asleep and wake up, aligning with average sleep cycles. 

Aim for a healthy diet. No one is saying that you have to completely take out the late night McDonalds runs with your friends or pizza nights with your family. Making sure to get daily nutrients is important to maintain not only physical health, but mental health as well. “Unhealthy” food won’t have major effects if it’s eaten only occasionally, but eating too much of it can definitely take its toll. The National Health Service has an “Eatwell” interactive guide detailing how to maintain a healthy balance in your diet that can be found here

Prioritizing mental health is important all year-round, but extra effort in the winter can be rewarding  Lastly, look for additional resources; reach out to friends and family, build a strong support system, take advantage of the resources at NNHS such as counselors, social workers and psychologists, and be open to techniques you haven’t tried before. 

As always, if you are struggling, there are people to talk to if you need it: 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)