Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Climate Change May Affect the Winter Blues in Ways Unknown Before

Weather has always been almost predictable, and we know how to dress, what to avoid, and how it will affect us, but maybe not anymore because of climate change.

As the seasons change, many will anticipate the return of specific season-related changes in their physical and mental health. One of the most well-known of these is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to inaccurately as Winter Blues. The reason the designation is inaccurate is that we now know that the change in mood occurs not simply in winter but in summer as well. Even after SAD was accepted as a medical fact, little was known about its summer component. Now we know.

It had been seen as restricted to a subtle change in mood, as many feel when it’s a gloomy or rainy day. But it goes beyond that and may bring changes affecting how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. There may be loss of appetite, problems sleeping, anxiety, restlessness, and even violent behavior. Considering the scope of the changes, diagnoses can be challenging and mistaken for something else because SAD can also be episodic, not affecting the person each year.

Research findings, too, are not consistent with what is believed to cause these changes. Some results see it as a change in the neurotransmitter serotonin and others as dysregulation of melatonin, the sleep hormone that disrupts the normal circadian rhythms of our bodies. Even the “sunshine vitamin D” plays a role in these cascading changes.

Aren’t we told that it’s good for us to be out in the sunshine, which can perk up our mood? Nursing homes have for years tried to bring their residents out on sunny days. Actually, it’s the fact that light passing through the eyes is directed to the brain areas involved in mood through hormone regulation. It’s why cloudy days may be moody ones. What’s changing now?

Weather patterns are no longer as predictable as they once were and may play havoc with our moods as a result. Summers are incredibly hotter, winters seem to meld into more spring-like or summer weather, and disturbances in weather-related hormones are a potential result.

How will our brains adapt, and will they? Will they bring with this unpredictability something akin to a bipolar-type new illness? Imagine being at the whim of the weather to send us cycling through a range of unwanted, unhealthful, and disruptive emotions or behaviors. It’s a highly unpleasant thought.

Not only individuals will be affected, but corporations and economies may begin to notice difficulties in staffing and levels of productivity. Who thought the weather could affect our economies this way? Now it’s not contained in our mood but in our financial stability, and that brings on added stress in a time of radical change in artificial intelligence. Scientists may hurriedly attempt to ameliorate the changes, but at what cost, as they stumble through their efforts and do not know the true result?

Consider something we may think of as frivolous: the fashion industry. Fashion is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, and it depends on the seasons for planning the purchase of fabrics, the ready labor force, and the designing of outfits. What happens when we no longer know during our usually normal winters that we don’t need such temperature-sensitive clothes and instead require a range from cold weather to hotter weather during any three-month period?

The writing is on the wall, as we note that even the famous Mont Blanc lost six feet during this exceptional year. Glaciers are losing their mass more quickly, making life within their range a dangerous endeavor.

Remember the trope of how a butterfly’s wing in a forest affects the world? The original theory was proposed by Edward Lorenz and has been explained in simpler terms. As a result of any tiny change in the environment and the gradual encroachment of industry destroying forest trees and leaving the land fallow, more natural disasters and less assistance with climate consistency are occurring, which is making it difficult for even butterflies to maintain their numbers and their normal migratory patterns.

Adaptation is key, and to survive, everyone all over the world must be involved in much more than they ever thought was necessary. Right now, we know some of the issues, but we do not have all the questions, and, therefore, we cannot have the answers we need. We must keep seeking.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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