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Winter Depression and the Importance of Sunlight

Winter Depression and the Importance of Sunlight

Winter Depression and the Importance of Sunlight

Also known as seasonal affective disorder, it is a type of depression that is tied to the seasons.




Winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that is tied to the changing seasons: it starts and ends at about the same time each year. If you’re like most people with SAD, symptoms begin in the fall and continue through the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel grumpy. These symptoms usually disappear during the spring and summer months.

Tropical countries like Brazil are known for their sunny days, high average temperatures, and low thermal amplitude (little difference between minimum and maximum temperatures). However, in winter, about 1% of the population suffers from depression or climate anxiety. It seems small, but there are more than 2 million Brazilians.

Data from the Department of Medical Psychology at King’s College/University of London shows that the problem is real: cloudy, rainy and cold days lead to changes in emotions, sleep and mood. The incidence is more common in countries such as Finland, Norway and Sweden, but in the southern region of Brazil, in the autumn and winter months, it is not uncommon for residents to experience some symptoms.

Don’t dismiss this annual feeling as simply a case of “winter blues” or a seasonal fear that you have to deal with on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation stable throughout the year.

Guilherme Alcântara Ramos, professor of Psychology at the University of Curitiba, Master in Behavior Analysis, explains that the reduction of sunlight disrupts the proper functioning of the hypothalamus, a region of the brain important for the production of hormones and that regulates various functions of the body. In winter, when the nights are longer and darker, we are more subject to emotional changes. According to him, exposure to the sun stimulates the production of serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters that influence mood and the ability to deal with stress and anxiety.

More time indoors

Ramos explains that in winter, due to the cold, people tend to do less physical activity and leave the house less to meet friends or to engage in leisure activities. This increases symptoms, making it important to adapt routines and social life to activities compatible with the climate during this period. The reason for sadness, depression and even stress is associated with poor lighting and less exposure to the sun, which interfere with the production of serotonin and melatonin. Signs and symptoms may include:

-Feeling apathetic, sad, or depressed much of the day, nearly every day

-Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy

-Having little energy and feeling lazy

-Sleeping too much or suffering from insomnia

-Warning of carb cravings, overeating and weight gain

-Have difficulty concentrating

-Feeling hopeless, useless or guilty

-Having thoughts of not wanting to live

Tips for managing emotions

Psychologist and professor at UniCuritiba Daniela Jungles explains that weather is a universal stressor and most people react, physically and emotionally, to a greater or lesser extent, to fluctuations in heat, cold, rain or wind. To face winter without breaking your emotional state, she teaches some good practices:

  • Take the time to slow down, relax, and appreciate being home if you don’t feel like going out in the winter. Rest brings a sense of calm because it reduces the level of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.
  • Stay up to date with your reading. Reading has positive effects on the brain, gives a feeling of well-being and helps eliminate daily worries. Another option is to take advantage of the cold and gray days to watch a good movie or series.
  • Meals are directly linked to feelings of pleasure and affection. Cooking is a powerful natural antidepressant and a great activity to distract yourself. Choose a delicious recipe and surprise your family.
  • Avoid social isolation. Social connections are important, and even at home, organize gatherings with friends and family. The Internet makes it easier to connect with people who live far away. Get into the habit of making video calls to talk to your loved ones.

When to see a doctor

Finally, the Psychology teachers at UniCuritiba emphasize the importance of taking care of your mental health. Don’t let climate anxiety or winter depression take over. It’s important to take proactive measures to take care of your physical and mental health. If you already know that winter affects your emotions, be very careful.

It’s normal to have some days when you feel depressed. But if you feel depressed for several days and can’t motivate yourself to do the activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep and appetite patterns have changed, if you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or if you feel hopeless or have thoughts of suicide.

Sources: Mayo Clinic/UniCuritiba

Source: Terra

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