Have you ever noticed patterns in your mental health around the seasons of the year? Taking the time to track your mental health can help you spot patterns like these so you can be better prepared to support yourself when things get hard. Some people have found that their anxiety gets worse in the winter. If that’s the case for you, there are several reasons why.
As you know, the days get shorter and darker as we head into the winter season. Not only that, but in lots of places (like here in Columbus), winter means cold, snow, and ice. It’s a harder season to get around in, which can lead to feeling cooped up or lonely.
So, why does winter cause more anxiety for certain people? Here are 3 reasons:
Winter can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder
Lots of people are familiar with the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but did you know that SAD doesn’t just cause depression? Seasonal Affective Disorder can also cause folks to experience more anxiety at certain times of the year. It’s possible for SAD to affect people in the summer, but as with seasonal depression, it’s more common in the winter.
Scientists think that Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused by a lack of sunlight in the winter season. In places like the Northeast, we get very little sunlight every day. Sunlight has an important role in the production of melatonin, which is a sleep hormone. When we get less sunlight, our bodies make more melatonin, which makes us feel tired and depleted in the winter.
We’re worried about the weather
In places where winter weather is a concern, it’s common to have weather-related anxiety in the colder months. It’s harder to get around in the winter, whether that’s to your job, school, or social engagements. Snow and ice make driving dangerous, which can be a huge source of anxiety. This is especially true for newer drivers or people who don’t have much experience driving in the snow.
Winter weather can wreak all sorts of havoc on our homes, too. Shoveling and wiping snow gets pretty old pretty quickly. If winter means a flooded basement or frozen pipes or worrying about your heat going out, it makes sense that your level of anxiety rises in the wintertime.
We spend less time outside
With our bodies urging us to slow down and the weather keeping us indoors, it can be harder to relieve stress in the wintertime. When you’re cooped up inside, it can be harder to make time to move or do things that relax you. Movement has a well-researched impact on mental health, and when it’s harder to move, our mental health often suffers.
Often, exercise is used as a punishment or a way to change your body shape, but moving your body is actually a great way to support your mental health. Movement doesn’t have to be so intense that you’re sore for days after to be beneficial, either! Daily movement can be as simple as making time to stretch every day. It might seem like your options are limited in the winter for ways to practice movement, but all it takes is a little creativity and some appropriate outerwear to enjoy movement in the winter.
Here are some other ways to move in the wintertime:
- Clean your house
- Put on music and dance
- Go snowshoeing
- Try skiing or snowboarding
- Get some friends and go sledding
- Start a yoga class on YouTube
What can I do about increased anxiety in the winter?
In nature, animals use the winter season as a time to rest and replenish. While the world doesn’t stop for humans in the cold months the way it does for animals, we can learn some lessons from how the animal kingdom approaches the seasons. Rest is an essential part of being alive. If we don’t get adequate rest, we risk all sorts of problems, like mental or physical burnout.
It can be hard to step away from the cultural urge to work ourselves to the bone. We often think of ourselves in terms of productivity or define ourselves by our careers. Just think about the first question you usually ask someone after meeting them – “So, what do you do for a living?”
There’s nothing wrong with working hard and being productive. It’s just hard to be that way all of the time, without allowing yourself time to rest and recover. If you find your anxiety increasing in the wintertime, see what you can do to give yourself permission to slow down.
- Can you talk to your boss about changing your responsibilities at work?
- Are you able to ask for support from folks who are close to you?
- Do you feel comfortable setting boundaries to protect your energy?
Another way to deal with anxiety in the winter is to go to therapy. Working with a therapist can help you develop coping skills for when you’re feeling anxious and learn what specifically triggers your anxiety so you can have a deeper understanding of what’s going on in your mind.