If you’re feeling a bit less energetic and more in favor of curling up on your couch with takeout and Netflix now that the sun is setting around 4:30 p.m., you’re not alone.
The so-called “winter blues” are real, Deirdre Conroy, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, told The Huffington Post. Fewer hours of daylight in the winter months do affect our bodies and our moods. “This is not a made up ‘thing.’ This is a real phenomenon,” she explained.
An estimated one to 10 percent of people, depending on the location, experience seasonal affective disorder ― a seasonal onset of clinical depression symptoms that requires treatment. But even those without SAD are likely to notice their moods are affected in less severe ways by the changing seasons.
When there are fewer hours of natural light during the day, some of the processes affected by the body’s internal circadian clock ― including ones that influence our mood ― get disrupted, Kathryn A. Roecklein, an associate professor in the department of psychology at University of Pittsburgh, previously told The Huffington Post.
The circadian clock is responsible for managing our sleep cycle, but it plays a big role in a lot of other systems in our body, like hormone release, temperature regulation, metabolism and mood.
Get outside, stay active and stay social
Even though the winter blues are a biological response to the changing light levels ― something outside of anyone’s control ― there are steps you can take to keep your mood up through all the seasons. (Though if you find yourself experiencing symptoms of depression once the seasons change, such as losing interest in your usual hobbies, feeling hopeless or having trouble sleeping, you may have SAD and should get help from your doctor or mental health professional.)
For many of us, things like getting outside in the sun, exercise, eating right, socializing and maintaining your regular sleep/wake cycle are known mood boosters, Conroy said.
Keep to your regular activities, she said.
“Being more sedentary can exacerbate the seasonal changes in mood ― and you get in a downward spiral,” she said. “Go out with friends. Go to the gym, even if you don’t [necessarily] feel like it.”