Wintertime Sadness: Here's How Colder Months Affect Your Mood and Productivity

Image credits: Unsplash
It's that time of year again — the days are getting shorter, the temperatures are dropping, and you may find yourself feeling a little down in the dumps. If you're low on energy and motivation when it's cold out, you're not alone — many people find that their mood and productivity take a dip in winter.

But why does this happen? And is there anything you can do to prevent it?

Let's dive into the science behind the winter blues and some simple steps you can take to boost your mood and get back on track.

Why does winter affect your mood and productivity?

Winter can be a tough season for many of us. If you notice that shorter days and colder weather make you feel particularly sluggish and unmotivated, it may be due to the winter blues. Its most common symptoms are:

  • Feelings of sadness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Sleepiness
  • Lack of motivation

But sometimes a change in mood during the winter months can be more severe. If you feel unable to keep up with your daily tasks as the days get shorter, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a type of depression that affects people during a specific season. The warning signs of winter-onset SAD to look out for are:

  • Intense sadness and feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling depressed almost every day
  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Sleep problems
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Social withdrawal
  • Overeating and weight gain

Researchers still can't pinpoint the exact cause of the seasonal affective disorder, but many agree that the lack of sunlight may be to blame. After all, if you go to work and return home in the dark, it's natural to feel gloomy! But there's more to it — lack of natural light can disrupt your circadian rhythms, reduce sleep quality, and lower your serotonin levels, which in turn makes you feel extra sleepy and low.
Image credits: Unsplash
  • Up to 10% of the world population is affected by seasonal depression, depending on where you live*
    *The further you are from the equator the more likely you are to have symptoms of SAD in winter
  • Seasonal affective disorder is 4 times more common in women
  • 20–30 years is the main age of onset of seasonal depression
  • SAD runs in the family — up to 17% of people affected by SAD have a blood relative with the disorder
  • Around 24% of people with bipolar disorder experience SAD symptoms
Seasonal changes can also affect our cognition. So if you feel you're not as sharp in winter as you normally are, SAD may be the reason. Low mood and depression can have a negative impact on your attention and memory, making it harder to focus on the task at hand. Studies show that people generally tend to be smarter in summer than in winter. For example, one study found that older adults showed better thinking and concentration in warmer months than in the winter and spring.

Who's at risk of winter blues?

It's natural to feel sad from time to time. But does wintertime sadness affect everyone equally?

Well, there're several things that can make you more sensitive to the effects of winter. Your age is one of them. Seasonal affective disorder is more common in younger adults — the main age of onset is 20–30 years, and the older you get the lower your chances of developing SAD symptoms in winter.

Gender is another factor that comes into play here — women are four times more likely to be affected by seasonal depression than men.

Other factors that may increase your chances of getting the winter blues are:

  • Family history. People with SAD symptoms often have a close relative with the disorder.
  • Having mental health disorders. People with major depression or bipolar disorder are more likely to experience symptoms of SAD during colder months.
  • Your geographical region. Winter blues are more common among people who live further from the equator, especially in areas with decreased sunlight during the winter months.
  • Low vitamin D level. Besides supporting your immune system, vitamin D can also boost your serotonin. Your body naturally produces vitamin D when it's exposed to sunlight. But since you don't get as much sunlight in winter, you may need to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels and recommend supplements if needed.

Tips to make the most of the winter months

Although winter can be a challenging time of year, it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. There are plenty of ways to stay productive and enjoy the colder months. By making some simple changes to your daily routine, you can boost your mood and get more done despite the shorter days and cooler temperatures.

Here are a few tips to help you make the most of the winter months:

  • Make the most of the daylight. Open the curtains and blinds to let in some natural light during the day — even if it's gray and cloudy out — and move your work desk closer to the window if possible.
  • Get enough sleep. This is important for overall health and will help you feel your best during the day. Aim for 7–9 hours of sleep each night and restrain from napping during the day.
  • Eat well. All of us often turn to comfort foods when we feel low, but making healthy choices for meals and snacks can actually help you stay energized and focused. Make sure to include foods rich in vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids like oily fish and seafood as they've been shown to improve mood and lower symptoms of depression.
  • Stay active. This may be the last thing on your mind when it's cold out, but exercise can actually boost your mood. So taking a brisk walk or going for a run can help you beat the winter blues. Plus, being more fit can make you feel better about yourself. And cold weather can actually speed up fat burning and help you shed that extra holiday weight faster! So it's a win-win.
  • Get outside. Even if it's cold, fresh air can do wonders for your mood and energy levels. Do your workout outdoors or just take a long walk after lunch at a nearby park — even better if the sun's out!
  • Socialize. When you're feeling down, it can be hard to find the motivation to be social. But spending time with loved ones can help improve your mood and give you a much-needed boost of positivity.
  • Stress less. Too much stress can lead to depression, overeating, and other unhealthy behaviors. Try stress-management techniques like yoga, tai chi, or meditation to help you unwind and release negative energy.
  • Plan fun activities. Make sure to set aside some time for fun activities in your schedule so you have something to look forward to.

Let's stick together to the tips and try to do our best this winter.

And if you want to better understand how weather affects your health and well-being — one of the Palta's applications, WeatherWell, can help! It's free and allows you to track 20+ weather-related symptoms and log how you feel in different conditions to analyze the data you provided and give you personalized insights and tips that are relevant to your unique health profile and weather-related health concerns.

Olga Sadouskaya
Clinical Product Manager, WeatherWell
Natasha Budanova
Content Manager, WeatherWell
Other stories