Surprising Ways Cold Weather Can Affect Your Mental Health

Research has found a majority of us are affected

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Does it sometimes feel like the winter weather is dragging you down? You’re not alone. Research has found that more than HALF of us experience some mood-related changes in the winter, some people more than others.

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“Cold weather may cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where an individual experiences symptoms of depression such as sadness, irritability, and fatigue,” licensed mental health counselor Rob Cole tells AwesomenessTV.

SAD is different from clinical depression because its symptoms only occur between November and March, which is thanks to a lack of sunlight during those months.

Even if you don’t suffer from SAD, you might still feel a little glum in the wintertime.

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“The cloudy weather, the cold temperatures, and the shorter days… all of these factors result in a lack of exposure to sunlight, which leads to a decrease in Vitamin D and serotonin,” Cole says.

This in turn can cause depression. People who already have mood disorders year-round, such depression or bipolar disorder, can be more negatively affected by winter weather than those who do not.

If the weather’s been getting you down, there are a few key ways to fight it. One, of course, is to get as much natural sunlight as possible.

“Even a brief 15-minute walk can help elevate the mood as both sunshine AND fresh air are known to help decrease stress,” Cole says.

Getting enough exercise is another, as is getting enough sleep. According to Cole, about seven to nine hours of sleep at night for most adults will help keep those winter blues from ruining half your year.

But feeling sad isn’t the only way these cold temps can mess with you. Here are some other surprising ways the cold weather can affect your mood, behavior, and mental health:

1. You’re more likely to crave romance.

Research has shown that we really do crave “warmth” when it’s cold, psychotherapist Dr. Mike Dow, author of Heal Your Drained Brain, tells AwesomenessTV. He doesn’t mean warmth in the sense of bundling up in a ton of layers, though — he’s talking about human touch and connection.

“Cold temperatures could put you in the mood for love,” Dow says. “You’re more likely to text that ex, pull up a dating app, spend a night in with your significant other, or opt for watching a romantic film.”

So if you find yourself wanting to text your ex but don’t know why, blame the cold. Cuffing season is real!

2. You’re more likely to feel worn out.

“Although this isn’t limited to just winter, an unpredictably bad blizzard or a really cold day after three days of okay temperatures can really affect you,” Dow says.

Depending on where you live, the unpredictability of the weather can be taxing on your brain due to the stress hormones that it constantly releases. When you’re constantly stressed and worrying about what the weather is going to be like, that can have a way of wearing you down.

3. You’re more likely to get insomnia.

If you’re prone to sleeping difficulties, Dow says winter weather can trigger bouts of insomnia.

“The natural blue light that is plentiful on sunny days suppresses melatonin production in the brain during the daytime,” he says. So when there’s a lack of sun, you’re likely to feel more sleepy during the day, take a long nap, and then feel much more awake at night.

In short, your sleep cycle can get out of whack. Since good sleep cycles are vital for a healthy mood, we can feel irritable, tired, or unfocused the next day if our cycles are interrupted.

We still have a couple more months of winter left to get through, so if you feel like the cold weather is changing your mood and behavior in some way, be sure to do something to help address it.

Kristine Fellizar
Kristine Fellizar

Kristine Fellizar is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She specializes in everything related to sex, dating, and relationships. When she’s not working and feeding into her coffee and boba addiction all over L.A., chances are you'll find her at Disneyland.