As we transition through the four seasons – autumn, winter, spring, and summer, the world around us undeniably changes. Leaves morph from green to gold, temperatures drop or rise, and daylight hours ebb and flow. These environmental changes, although seemingly external, impact us more profoundly than we often acknowledge. They do not merely affect our wardrobe choices or preferred activities; they have a profound impact on our psychology.
The scientific study of these phenomena, known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), has uncovered some fascinating truths. This type of depression typically coincides with late autumn and winter when daylight hours are fewer and temperatures drop. It is estimated that around 2 million of the UK population suffers from SAD, showcasing just how powerful the seasons’ influence on our mental health can be. SAD is thought to result from reduced sunlight exposure, which can disrupt our body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, lower serotonin levels – a neurotransmitter that affects mood – and increase melatonin levels, which influence sleep patterns and mood.
However, it’s not just the colder months that can affect our psychology. Each season brings its own unique psychological influences. For instance, spring often heralds a season of rejuvenation and optimism. As the days lengthen and nature comes back to life, we often find ourselves feeling more energised and optimistic. Psychologists believe that increased exposure to natural light can boost serotonin production, leading to improved mood and higher energy levels.
Summer, on the other hand, is often associated with a sense of freedom and exploration. The longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures provide more opportunities for outdoor activities, which can boost our mood and overall sense of well-being. However, it’s important to note that not everyone reacts to the seasons in the same way. Some people may find the heat of summer oppressive, leading to feelings of discomfort and irritability, while others thrive in the sun-drenched days.
As autumn approaches, the days become shorter, and we might start to feel a sense of calm and introspection. Autumn, with its changing colours and cooler temperatures, can bring about feelings of nostalgia and a greater propensity for reflection.
It’s crucial to understand that these changes are normal. We are biologically tuned to respond to the changing environment around us. However, if seasonal changes cause significant distress or interfere with daily functioning, it may be indicative of a more severe form of seasonal affective disorder, and professional help should be sought.
Understanding the impact of the seasons on our psychological health can help us navigate these changes more effectively. By acknowledging that our mood and energy levels might fluctitate with the seasons, we can adopt coping strategies, such as light therapy, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy diet. Additionally, making the most of natural light during the day and establishing a consistent sleep routine can help balance our body’s natural rhythms.
In conclusion, the changing seasons, with their distinctive weather patterns and light conditions, significantly affect our psychological well-being. Recognising and acknowledging this impact can help us better navigate these changes, leading to improved mental health and a greater understanding of our own bodies. While everyone’s experience with the changing seasons may be different, the importance of maintaining our psychological health remains the same.
By understanding the seasons’ psychological impact, we can take steps to mitigate negative effects and thrive throughout the year, whatever the weather.
Sherry Bennett, PsyD is an American-born writer and environmental psychologist, delving into the human-nature relationship through her research and writings.