Studies new and old have shown that, in fact, moods and behaviors do change depending on seasons, and similarly, brain activity also changes. Here’s what you should know about our brains as the seasons change.
I’m sure you’ve heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that varies with the seasons, often being triggered in late fall and early winter, and subsiding in spring and summer. It is said the lack of light, more clouds, and shorter days in winter are the contributors to seasonal affective disorder, but the causes aren’t concrete. Researchers have found people with seasonal affective disorder may have an imbalance of serotonin, which is a chemical that affects your mood. A person with this disorder could also make too much melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep) and not enough vitamin D. There are ways to combat the symptoms: through light therapy, exercise, eating right, and setting a healthy sleep schedule.
In a 2016 Belgian study, researchers found that participants’ abilities to perform different tasks remained relatively the same over the year. However, the responses of their brains to the tasks were different depending on the season. For tasks that required sustained attention, brain activity peaked in summer and “bottomed out” in winter. It was nearly the opposite for brain activity in response to tasks that required working memory, as it peaked around autumn and “bottomed out” around spring. So, while neither is necessarily better than the other, they’re certainly different.
It’s also possible the colder months are good for our decision-making abilities. Researchers, as reported by the Scientific American, tested this link and had results suggesting simple cognitive tasks, like decision-making, can be somewhat affected by “excessive ambient warmth.” They figured, as our bodies work hard to maintain a healthy internal temperature, they use up resources that would otherwise be available for mental processing. These findings, however, are not to say that those who live in hotter climates are more prone to poor decision-making; humans are incredibly adaptive to their environments, especially when exposed long term.
While these are interesting findings, it doesn’t change the fact that some of us love winter and some of us hate it. Here’s how to embrace the colder months if you have the winter blues.
Ultimately, try not to let your spirit drop as the temperatures do. If winter gives you the cold shoulder, start focusing on self-care and the other coping mechanisms above. Your brain will thank you for it!