There Is a Scientific Explanation behind the ‘Winter Blues’

by Leah Peloff ‘18

As it gets deeper and deeper into winter, many people start to experience what is known as the “winter blues.” Opposite to spring fever, people often feel seasonally depressed due to the increased hours of darkness as well as the bitterly cold weather.

Winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), has numerous causes, including, “brain chemicals, ions in the air, and genetics, but researchers agree that people who suffer from winter depression have one thing in common. They’re particularly sensitive to light, or the lack of it,” stated public health professional Martin Downs in his article on Webmd.

This sensitivity to less hours of daily sunlight tends to disrupt one’s circadian rhythm, or the 24 hour psychological cycle of human beings which can be thrown off by external factors such as light and temperature. During the winter months, one’s alarm clock usually goes off when it is still pitch black outside, which causes such exhaustion because morning sunlight resets people’s circadian clock. If one wakes up to a black sky, their body naturally thinks it is still the middle of the night, contributing to the lethargy many feel throughout the winter.

Not all levels of the winter blues are equal, however. “Winter depression is a spectrum of severity,” stated SAD expert, Michael Terman, PhD. “You may have trouble getting up, have bouts of fatigue during the day, or feel compelled to overeat, without feeling depressed.” Due to this, many do not even realize they suffer from SAD, so the impact of seasonal depression is probably much more widespread than what it seems.

The next logical question for most is how to avoid these annual spouts of sadness. First off, to combat the impact of less sunlight, experts recommend making one’s environment as bright as possible. This includes anything from opening curtains during the day to sitting next to an artificial light for at least 30 mins daily. Additionally, exercising, listening to upbeat music, going outside, and even planning a future summer vacation can greatly help people get through these tough few months.

Winter is a hard time for many. We often feel as though it will be cold, dark, and sad forever, but in reality, seasonal depression is extremely common and beatable. A quarter of our lives are going to be spent during winter months, so buy that bright lamp, cut down that large branch that blocks light from entering your room, go outside, run, and listen to your favorite song on repeat. If all else fails, remember, spring will be here be here before we know it.