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August 29, 2013


All of us know how it feels when we are sad, but Norman E. Rosenthal, a psychiatrist who moved from his native South Africa to New York City thirty years ago is credited with naming and describing the collection of depressive symptoms that occur to some people during winter. SAD, seasonal affective disorder was initially met with skepticism from the medical community, however, it has gradually accepted that weather, in particular light levels greatly affect our mental state.

A study published in the American Journal of Psychology documented that 10 percent of Alaskans suffer from depression during rough winter months, resulting in lethargy, increased carbohydrate consumption and sadness. Reported cases of SAD rise the closer one lives to both the north and south poles. New York City claims a percentage of 4.7 of SAD cases as compared to just 1 percent in Florida and 14 percent in Norway.

Researchers at the University of Michigan recently found the opposite to be true as well, when they determined that nice weather improves mood, creativity and memory.

Snow Storm

Snow Storm

While there are a variety of theories attempting to name the specific causes of SAD, experts tend to believe that low levels of light alter our circadian rhythms, which are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. Low levels of light also increase the production of the hormone melatonin while decreasing serotonin levels, leading to the depressive symptoms of SAD. There may also be cultural and evolutionary predilections involved for warmer, sunnier climates as well.

Summer SAD occurs with too much light exposure and can induce manic symptoms including anxiety and insomnia. Interestingly, people in Scandinavian countries continually rank as being among the world’s happiest even though they experience a higher rate of seasonal doldrums. Some research leads toward the possibility of there being a genetic component associated with SAD while others lean toward diet playing a role in the condition.

Researchers cannot ignore the large number of people who develop depressive symptoms ever without a lower level of light. Then there are those who live in areas where there is little sunshine but who never experience changes in their moods. SAD therefore, is most likely caused by a number of different factors, light exposure in conjunction with someone’s predisposition to depression or light sensitivity.

Sunny Weather

Sunny Weather

Temperature may have effects on our moods as well. A three-year-old study reported that very hot temperatures tend to increase aggression and crime in some people. High humidity has also been shown to decrease attention level and energy.

If we want to generalize, we could predict that the further north you move, the more likelihood you have of experiencing SAD, however, it appears that there are too many individual considerations and factors associated to our reaction to weather, to generalize. Theo Klimstra, a recently published psychologist found that our psychological and personality profiles may be the most significant contributor to whether or not we are afflicted with SAD. The findings report that 50 percent of us are not emotionally affected by weather whatsoever.

So, rest assured. Even though colder weather is close at hand for many of us, recent findings that have been published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggest that no matter type of conditions, temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed, or others, our overall sense of satisfaction in life is not impacted. There is absolutely nothing a little extra artificial light can’t cure even on a dreary, wintry day.

Judy is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked extensively as a counselor with children, adolescents, couples and families. Judy’s professional experience in the mental health field along with her love of writing, provide insight into real-life experiences and relationships. Her fresh voice and down-to-earth approach to living a happier, more meaningful life are easy to understand and just as easy to start implementing right away for positive results!

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