Climate/Weather and Mood/Mental Health
Seasons and Mood
An Exploration of Mood Disorders and Seasonal Affective Disorder
Many factors can affect a person’s mood. Not the least among them is the season, or climate and weather conditions. Realistically, how many people have not had their spirits dampened by a rainy day or excited by a sky full of sunshine? Although these are typical reactions to climate and weather, a person may also have personal reactions to climate and weather conditions. For example, some may experience a boost in their moods when they see rain or thunderstorms because they remind them of a special time in their childhood. For others, sunlight may seem abrasive or indicative of fun activities, which could worsen the mood of a person who does not enjoy these types of activities. Even snow and cold, which may affect one person’s mood in a positive light, as they think of the holidays and Christmas, can affect another person’s mood negatively, as they think about the time alone they will spend during this time. Most commonly, however, changes of season are associated with negative mood changes during the winter. Clinically, Seasonal Affective Disorder is the name for the most serious malady of this type. However, even those who have not been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder can experience mood changes that are associated with seasonal changes. By first discussing mood disorders and the rational behind the association between season and mood, followed by an exploration of Seasonal Affective Disorder, one can better understand how the changing seasons can affect one’s mood in a variety of ways.
In order to understand how one’s mood may change with the changing seasons, one must first understand mood disorders. Each person is liable to experience changes in mood. In fact, people can often experience rapid mood changes, or mood swings, after hearing bad news, after experiencing a tragic event, when affected with premenstrual syndrome, and during puberty (Kronefield). But some mood changes or mood swings are not the result of normal occurrences or of hormones. These changes are sometimes associated with other disorders, such as ADHD and other types of hyperactivity (Kronefield). In other cases, mood changes are due to mood disorders. Mood disorders, or mental illnesses, are caused by chemical changes in the brain, but they are often incubated by “environmental factors” (“Mood Disorders”). Mood disorders are treatable due to medication (“Mood Disorders”). Many of those with these types of disorders, however, will also be advised to seek help via counseling. Two of the most common kinds of mood disorders are bipolar disorder and depression, and around 44 million Americans are affected by some kind of mental disorder (“Mood Disorders”).
This understanding of mood disorders can help many understand why seasonal changes can so greatly affect mood. As was previously stated, a mood disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but this imbalance can be exacerbated by “environmental factors” (“Mood Disorders”). Although what is meant by this terminology is anything in the sufferer’s own environment, nothing can be more environmental than the season. Those who suffer from chemical imbalances could easily find that the changing of the seasons is the event that triggers the symptoms of their mood disorder. In this case, the weather or climate can be nearly anything, having a specific relationship for a specific person. For instance, a person who experienced a tragic event during a thunderstorm may be subject to the thunderstorm as a trigger for his or her mood disorder.
One type of mood disorder is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, and this ailment specifically affects one’s mood during the winter months. Like most mood disorders, Seasonal Affective Disorder has a scientific explanation. According to Science News, Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused by “insufficient exposure to sunlight,” scientists believe (“Seasons Change”). Because it is produced in the dark, the hormone Melatonin, is thought to be secreted in larger numbers as the days grow longer and darker. This hormone, which is associated with sleep, may cause “symptoms of depression” (“Seasons Change). Seasonal Affective Disorder is actually a fairly common problem, affecting about 20% of the population, most of whom are women between the ages of 18 and 40. Symptoms of the disorder include “feelings of depression, misery, lethargy, insomnia, appetite problems, and a loss of sex drive” (“Seasons Change”). According to the May Clinic, many of the disorder’s symptoms include depression-like characteristics, including “lethargy, fatigue and other problems (Seasonal Affective Disorder”). Indeed, the May Clinic calls Seasonal Affective Disorder a form of depression.
Although Seasonal Affective Disorder may be a potentially dangerous condition that leads to impaired cognitions, it is difficult to determine the exact nature of the ailment because many of the symptoms are those that are also experienced by a majority of the population each day. According to the Mayo Clinic, feelings of cabin fever and eating and sleeping more are typical reactions to the onset of winter (“Seasonal Affective Disorder”). This does not mean that one necessarily has Seasonal Affective Disorder or another type of depression. According to the APA Monitor, in fact, many who do not have the disorder experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder each winter. Even in those without Seasonal Affective Disorder, participants in a study were found to have increased amounts of “depression, anxiety, hostility, anger, and irritability in winter” more than in other seasons (Waters). Although many experience mood changes during the winter months, this does not mean that they necessarily have Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, anyone who believes they are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder should contact a professional immediately, because the depression could lead to serious consequences for one’s self and others.
Thus, while a person’s mood can be changed by many factors, those factors can be separated into the categories of not-so-serious and serious problems. Not so serious reasons for mood changes include hearing bad news, being witness to a tragic event, or undergoing a normal, short-term period of hormone imbalance, such as puberty, PMS, or pregnancy. More serious reasons for mood changes include changes associated with mood disorders and other conditions, such as ADHD. This can become rather tricky for diagnosis, however, because many mood responses to seasonal changes can fall into the category of not-so-serious mood changes. Indeed, the May Clinic reports that it is normal to “develop cabin fever during the inter-months,” in addition to “eating more” and “sleeping more,” during this time period (“Seasonal Affective Disorder”). For this reason, many of those who experience mood changes based on weather and climate are not sure whether or not their issue is a problem or whether it is simply a normal, environmental trigger of a mental disorder. Instead, readers should understand that the study of mood change during the seasons is rather necessary, as it is important to inform others that what they are experiencing could be normal, or it could be a mood disorder. Further information should also be used to make others aware of the differences between these two conditions.
Kronefield. James. “What Cuases Mood Changes?” Article Alley. 7 March 2007. 29
November 2008. http://www.articlealley.com/article_135827_17.html
Samhsa’s National Mental Health Information Center. “Mood Disorders.” nd. 29
November 2008. http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/publications/allpubs/ken98-0049/default.asp
Seasonal Affective Disorder.” The Mayo Clinic. 24 September 2007. 29 November http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195
Seasons change mod and attractiveness.” Science News. June 2006. 29 November 2008. http://www.sciencenews.net.au/seasons-change-mood-and-attractiveness/
Waters, M. “Change of Seasons, changes in mood.” APA Monitor. 9 October 1999. 29
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