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Psychological Effects of the Seasons on Your Recovery

Psychological Effects of the Seasons on Your Recovery

A wide range of emotional and psychological conditions may be related to the season of the year

Changing seasons bring with them varying weather conditions, changes in typical activities and routines and personal reminders of past events. Each of these may influence emotions and produce psychological effects. Because emotional regulation is an important part of recovery from addiction to drugs like clonazepam, it is wise for people in recovery to be aware of the various ways in which their mental health may be affected by the calendar.

Indirect observational data indicates that a wide range of mental health conditions may follow seasonal trends. A 2013 article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports on the number of Google mental health queries in winter versus summer. The analysis found that there were more information searches in the winter for all conditions observed including ADHD, anxiety, bipolar illness, depression, anorexia, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. The difference between winter and summer rates was 14% in the U.S. and 11% in Australia. The rates of difference for individual conditions ranged from 7% for anxiety to 37% for eating disorders.

How Weather May Affect Mental Health

One of the most direct ways in which seasons of the year may affect psychological health is through biological effects of varying weather conditions. Biometeorology is the study of the relationship between living beings and atmospheric phenomena. Factors such as temperature, humidity and the amount of sunshine may all affect the human body. Psychological conditions that may be affected by weather include the following:

  • Depression – Depression has many possible causes and contributing factors including seasonal ones. People who experience normal moods most of the year but have recurrent bouts of depression in the late fall and winter months may be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that a typical pattern is for symptoms to begin in October or November and subside in March or April. The condition is thought to be primarily related to the effect of sunlight levels on neurotransmitters including melatonin and serotonin. Some sufferers find relief from utilizing bright lights that mimic the sun.
  • Attention – Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may also be affected by sunlight. A 2013 article in the journal Biological Psychiatry found a significant relationship between solar intensity and the prevalence of ADHD. The researchers examined AHDH rates in 49 U.S. states and nine other countries and found that solar intensity explained 34%-57% of the variance in the prevalence of the condition. A 2014 article in Pediatrics International reported that lower vitamin D levels were found in children and adolescents with ADHD than in healthy controls.  Vitamin D is produced in the body from sunlight exposure.
  • Impulsivity – A 2003 article in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry reported on a study of weather and psychiatric conditions. The study determined that violence and emergency psychiatric visits, which the authors categorized as impulsive behaviors, were significantly related to low barometric pressure.
  • Decision-making – A 2013 Scientific American article reports on studies of temperature and decision-making. Research indicates that warmer weather makes it more difficult to evaluate new information and make decisions. The effect is thought to be related to glucose levels. Although cooling and warming the body both require energy, more glucose is expended when the ambient temperature is high and the body must work to cool itself. The more glucose is used for temperature regulation, the less is available for other physical and mental processes. The article notes that glucose is needed not just for making decisions but for exerting self-control and suppressing emotional responses.

Seasonal Trends in Emotion and Cognition

The effects of isolated weather conditions can vary depending on the season of the year. A 2005 article in the journal Psychological Science notes that pleasant weather, as related to higher temperature or barometric pressure, was related to higher mood, better memory and positive cognitive effects in the spring as time spent outside increased. The effect was not seen during other seasons. In fact in the summer, hotter weather was associated with lower mood. The authors hypothesize that pleasant weather affects mood and cognition in the spring because of its lack during the winter.

Spring is not a universally pleasant time for everyone. Biological responses to the seasons can interact with cultural factors. A 2011 BBC News report notes that spring is a season of new energy and hope for most people but that for those suffering from depression it can be challenging. When people are not being naturally boosted by seasonal affects but see that others are, it can magnify the effects of a depressed mood.

Personal history can also affect seasonal mental health. It is not uncommon for the anniversary of a significant event to trigger an emotional reaction even without people being fully aware of the anniversary on a conscious level. Traumatic events are perhaps the most likely to affect future mood, but any significant event or series of events can become identified on a subconscious level with a given season of the year. Holidays may have either negative or positive associations, and the anticipation or dread of them may have emotional ramifications.

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