Written by Kai McClelland
Today (November 5th, 2023) is the end of daylight savings time for the year, which means that the United States is one step closer to winter. The shorter days and colder temperatures that are starting to ensue across the country impact many people’s mental health through a phenomenon known as seasonal affective disorder.
We sat down with our Clinical Director, Dr. T, to discuss how and why the winter impacts mental health, as well as what his tips are for people experiencing negative effects. Read below to see the insights from the conversation:
Kai: Why does the end of daylight savings impact people?
Dr. T: There's a couple of things. One is that, in general, transition times tend to be hard for people. When we're in times of transition, we tend to be more sensitive to mental health vulnerabilities.
Another one is that it gets colder during this time of year. Cold is something that can affect moods for a lot of people. And then probably the most common one is that there are shorter periods of light during the day. We know that there's a lot of benefits to daylight and sun exposure, and limiting the time window in which the sun is out can make things harder.
Kai: What are some of the symptoms that people might experience that might indicate that they’re experiencing seasonal depression?
Dr. T: Mood is something that can fluctuate for a lot of reasons, so a dip in mood probably won’t be the only indicator. But if you notice a negative change in mood that goes on for several weeks, that could be an indicator. The other thing is if you tend to notice a pattern every year around this time. That’s something to pay attention to.
You also want to pay attention to your motivation levels. If you notice you’re less motivated, more fatigued, less productive, or more critical of yourself and your environment, those are some indicators. The last thing would be withdrawing. If you’re less interested in being around people, or even when you are, you’re getting less excitement or enjoyment out of it, that could be a sign.
Kai: What are your top five tips for people experiencing seasonal depression?
Dr. T: Number one is to stay active. There are a lot of benefits to physical activity. Exercise gives you neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin that help enhance mood. So if you continue to stay active throughout the winter, that could help you continue to boost your mood and stay motivated.
Number two is to get outside. We naturally go outside more often when it’s warmer because there’s more light available and the days are longer. In the winter, it’s something to be intentional about. [I’d recommend] finding ways to get outside, even if it’s going for a walk before lunch or walking home from one instead of taking a car. Just create opportunities for yourself to get outside.
Number three is to stay warm. Most people prefer warm over cold. So find ways to stay warm, whether it’s what you're wearing, the temperature of your shower, etc. Another good option is a lightbox. There are lots of different kinds of light boxes, but I’d recommend one that has 10,000 LUX or more. Lightboxes are proven to be able to release certain chemicals that help stimulate mood.
Number four is to stay socially active. In the winter, when it’s colder, we tend to isolate ourselves more. So I’d recommend continuing to be social and active.
Number five is to use the winter as an opportunity to work on things that you normally wouldn’t have time to do. If there are particular hobbies that you want to pursue, books you’ve wanted to read, or projects that you want to start, you can use the wintertime to cultivate those interests and hobbies to make your time inside a productive experience. That means that by the time the weather gets warmer and the sun comes back out, you’ll come away from the winter with a product.
*The above transcript has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Athletes with further questions can check out @dr.t_sportspsych to get in touch with Dr. T.
Arman Taghizadeh, M.D. also known as “Dr. T”, is a Johns Hopkins trained Board Certified Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist also specializing in Sports Psychiatry. He is the founder of Mindset Training Institute® (MTI) and host of our official podcast, “The Mindset Experience.” A former NCAA Division I wrestler, he received his M.D. from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 2004. He completed both his Adult Residency and Child and Adolescent Fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital where he served as Chief Resident from 2008-2009. Dr. T owns and maintains an independent practice in Baltimore and is a faculty instructor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He has earned multiple awards for his work.