Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Season and emotion
How are our emotions affected by the season?
Have you ever heard of the “winter blues”? Winter blues is a term often used to describe the feeling of being sad or unhappy (‘blue’) during the winter months, which is associated with the increase of cold weather and lack of light (Collins Dictionary, 2015)
This book chapter explores the feeling of “winter blues”, determines the other affects that the seasons have on individuals’ emotions and moods, as well as exploring the causes of these affects. It will also briefly look at schziophrenia and bipolar and their relationship with seasonality, as well as touching on daily weather and its affect on emotion and mood. This chapter conclude by exploring the different ways used to combat the affects of seasonality on emotions (such as light therapy cognitive behavioural therapy and medical approaches).
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Remembering back to the term “winter blues”, a disorder that seems to epitomise this term is the Seasonal Affective Disorder also known as SAD.
SAD is mainly characterized by autumn/winter major depression with spring/summer remission (it is possible to have spring/summer depression, with autumn/winter remission, however this is very uncommon). The aetiology of SAD is not exactly clear, but research has suggested it could have something to do with neurotransmitters, hormones, circadian rhythm, and psychological factors (Roecklein & Rohan, 2005).
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes a seasonal pattern specifier that can be applied to recurrent major depressive disorder or bipolar I or II disorder in cases where the major depressive episodes recur in a particular season and fully remit or change to mania or hypomania at a characteristic time of year (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
An estimated 10 to 20% of recurrent depression cases follow a seasonal pattern. Although a summer pattern of recurrence is possible, the predominant pattern involves autumn/winter depression with spring/summer remission. Young adults and women are most likely to experience SAD with the reported gender difference ranging from 2:1 to 9:1 (Roecklein & Rohan, 2005).
SAD is not only limited to the mood disorders, seasonal patterns have been identified in bulimia nervosa, anxiety disorders, and other psychiatric conditions.
In the past the aetiology for SAD has focused heavily on biological causes including neurotransmitters, hormones, and circadian rhythm. It is not until more recently that psychological factors are starting to be recognised as a possible causes for SAD, however information about these psychological factors not as extensive compared to the biological.
This theory compliments the effectiveness of using light therapy (which will be explored later in this chapter) to treat SAD, as by increasing the amount of bright light an individual with SAD it should help increase the amount of serotonin (Lam et al., 1996).
In humans, the rate of serotonin (a neurotransmitter regarded as being responsible for maintaining mood balance, (Garattini, & Valzelli, 1965)) turnover in the brain is lowest during winter, and the rate of serotonin production increases with light (Lambert et al., 2002) therefore it has been suggested, that the lower levels of serotonin turnover may cause SAD.
A second theory is related to a personscircadian rhythm (also known as the 'body clock' and is responsible for a persons sleep pattern) and is the phase-shift hypothesis. This hypothesis proposes that the body's sleep-wake cycle is phase-delayed for people with SAD due to the environmental light-dark cycle (based on observations of delayed onset of sleep, melatonin, body temperature, and cortisol rhythms in some SAD patients.
Light therapy administered in the morning can phase-advance circadian rhythms in individuals with SAD who are phase-delayed (Lewy, et al., 1998).
Research by Wehr et al., (2001) found that individuals with SAD during winter have increased period of nocturnal melatonin release (a hormone that promotes sleep), possibly duelonger nights, as compared to summer months and those without SAD. These results can be paralleled to some mammals which found that lengthened duration of melatonin release, signals seasonal changes in reproductive activity. Therefore implying the people suffering from SAD may have retained the ability to track seasons, perhaps explaining the seasonal presentation of SAD (Roecklein, & Rohan, 2005) .
Recent etiological models have attempted to integrate psychological theories in explaining SAD’s onset and maintenance. The first theory uses Young's dual vulnerability model. This model combines both biological and psychological reasoning behind SAD and proposes two vulnerabilities among individuals with SAD:
- a physiological vulnerability to experience atypical symptoms during the winter and;
- a psychological vulnerability to develop cognitive and affective symptoms of depression in reaction to the vegetative symptoms (Young, 1999).
This hypothesis was based on Young’s finding that individuals with SAD retrospectively recounted the onset of fatigue, hypersomnia, and increased appetite prior to developing cognitive and affective symptoms. Different pathophysiological mechanisms may account for the different vulnerabilities proposed which may explain why there has been some variances in findings from studies that have explored the aetiology and treatment of SAD. (Roecklein, & Rohan, 2005). Evidence has also emerged that supports cognitive and behavioral models of depression may also help explain SAD.
In cross-sectional studies, people suffering from SAD and non-seasonal depression reported similarly negative attribution styles, as well as negative automatic thoughts and dysfunctional attitudes. A longitudinal study found that women with SAD history had more frequent negative automatic thoughts than non-depressed women across all season, with peak negative automatic thought frequency in winter (Hodges, & Marks, 1998). Ruminative coping (focusing on the causes and consequences of a depressed mood) may also have something to do with SAD. Studies have found that the more ruminative coping during autumn, the more likely the severity of SAD symptoms during the following winter (Young, & Azam, 2003)
Arguments Against SAD
A study lead by John Eagles (2003) has argued the legitimacy of SAD, believing that some of the symptoms of SAD experienced in winter (fatigue, lowered motivation, hyposomnia, increased appetite and weight, irritability and reduced sociability) all lie on a continuum that everyone faces, not just people with SAD and therefore Eagles argued that these symptoms did not constitute a disorder.
Seasonality, Schizophrenia and Bipolar
There have also been findings surrounding the onset of Schizophrenia and Bi Polardisorder and seasonality. According to Torrey et al., (1997) schizophrenias and people suffering from Bipolar are more frequently born in winter (December-March) than in other seasons, the reasoning behind why this occurs is unclear, and may instead be linked to an “age incident artefact” - being a coincident (Bleuler, 1991).
Seasonality and Suicide
Emotion and depression are things that are often linked to suicide rates (Hargus, Crane, Barnhofer, & Williams, 2010).
It might then seem logical to review the patterns found in SAD, expect to find that autumn and winter would have the highest level of suicide rates. This however is not the case, as there are many mixed findings regarding seasonality and emotion.
While Springtime is known for being the season of ‘hope’ (as it brings new life and warmer weather), for people who are suffering from depression (not SAD) it may seem more like a season of hopelessness.
Researchers (Koskinen et al., 2002) found that outdoor workers were more likely to commit suicide during spring time rather than during the winter time, while for indoor workers studied, suicides peaked in the summertime,the study suggested that these findings may have to do with the may be due to the increase in daylight and warmer temperatures .
As this affects both the Northern and Southern hemisphere this seems that the seasonality of suicide (higher during spring and summer, lower during autumn and winter) it can be considered universal and constant.
A meta-analysis on the seasonality of suicide, performed in 2012 (Christodoulou et al.), found that studies, both the Northern and Southern hemisphere, reported a seasonal pattern for suicides (with the number of suicides increasing during spring and early summer, and a decrease in the number of suicides during the autumn and winter months). These finding are interesting, as this appears to be in direct conflict with the findings surrounding SAD.
A study in 2013 (Makris et al.) examined all suicides in the Sweden from 1992 to 2003 and found a similar spring-summer seasonal pattern peak for suicides.
Weather and Mood
In order to truly understand how seasons can effect individuals’ emotions’ and moods’, it is also important to explore how everyday weather can affect individuals emotions’ and moods’.
According to Denissen et al. (2008) the weather’s daily influence has more of an impact on a person’s negative mood, rather than improving a persons mood (positive mood). This research did find however, that higher temperatures have the ability to lift a person with a low mood up, while effects such as wind and lack of sunlight have the ability to make made a low person feel even worse.
A study from 2011 (Klimstra et al.) found that half of the 415 adolescents studied were not affected by changes in the weather, while the other half were. Further analyses determined four weather personality types.
Table 1. Weather Personality Types
|Weather Personality Type||Percentage||Description|
|Summer Lovers||17%||“Happier, less fearful, and less angry on days with more sunshine and higher temperatures. More hours of precipitation was associated with less happiness and more anxiety and anger.”|
|Summer Haters||27%||“Less happy and more fearful and angry when the temperature and the percentage of sunshine were higher. With more hours of precipitation they tended to be happier and less fearful and angry.”|
|Rain Haters||9%||“Angrier and less happy on days with more precipitation. By comparison, they were more happy and fearful, but less angry, on days with more sunshine and higher temperatures.|
|Unaffected by weather||48%||Largely unimpacted by changes in the weather. (Grohol, 2014).|
This research was based on teenagers living in Holland, so the results may not be able to be generalised to adults living in other countries, however this at least gives a good baseline to compare individuals’ from other countries.
Weather appears to have measurable impact on many people’s moods, although a person’s mood can be dependent on many factors. The usual weather pattern of any geographic location is important, because if this geographic location endures long periods of unusual weather, one would expect to find people in these locations to be more greatly affected. For example places like Southern California, have very long periods of hot and sunny weather, if however they were to experience a period of 2 months straight where it was cold and snowy, this could potentially have a large effect on people moods’ and emotions’.
Therefore rather than the weather itself affecting peoples’ moods’ and emotions’ it instead may be linked to a change in routine or normality. For example, if Upstate New York experienced 2 months straight of cold and snowing, this may have very little affect on the moods’ and emotions of the people who live in Upstate New York’ because they regularly experience cold weather months at a time.
Differences between Men and Women
As previously mentioned SAD is more commonly found in women, than men (2;1, as opposed to 9:1).
This also appears to be similar for how daily weather affects men and women. Connolly (2008) found that men responded to unexpected weather by changing their plans (for example if it began to rain, they would stay inside rather than go outside for a walk. As well as if it was a nice sunny day, the may decide to go to the beach instead of stay inside and watch TV). Women, however, are not as likely to modify their activities, (they are more likely to still go for a walk, even if it is raining), this may cause them to more often have to actively deal with unexpected weather which may negatively impact their mood.
How to Combat Seasonality
There are a few options to try combat the effects of seasonality. When it comes to SAD Light therapy had been established as the best available treatment, however alternatives (which maybe used in combination with or stand alone) include medications, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and exercise (Roecklein, & Rohan, 2005).
Light Therapy (or Bright Light Therapy) involves exposure to artificial light used usually in the treatment of SAD. The patient will sit next to a light therapy box (a box containing fluorescent lamps) which mimics natural outdoor light, used during the autumn and winter months. Light Therapy is often used daily (for a time period of around two to four weeks) and the duration can range from 30 minutes to 2 hours a day. Research asshown great success with treating SAD with light therapy (Terman et al., 1989). While the success of light thereapy is not up for debate, this is controversy around the optimal timing of light therapy. Multiple studies have found conflicting research however more often have seemed to find that morning light may be more effective than evening light, although a meta-analysis has found that the most effective timing may involve morning-plus-evening light (Lee et al., 1997).
While the side effects of light therapy are generally mild (if any are encountered) and can usually be easily fixed through change manipulations the dosage, the mild side effects can include headache, eyestrain, and psychomotor agitation.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a well-known psychological treatment for disorders such as anxiety and OCD. Cognitive behaviour techniques attempts to alter previous negative patterns of thought about the clients as well as challenging their unrealistic or harmful beliefs about the world in order to alter unwanted behaviour patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression.
SAD may be caused by negative attribution styles, as well as negative automatic thoughts. This would be a good way to combat these issues as it would help them learn better attributing styles and help them realise their automatic negative thoughts, as well as trying to implement healthier alternatives. A study by Babyak et al, (2000) found that CBT can help lessen the severity of SAD by itself, however CBT in combination with light therapy, is the most effective treatment of SAD involving CBT.
A possible cause of SAD is the lack of serotonin during winter time, thus it is logical that antidepressants may be used to treat SAD. While it is uncommon for serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to be taken on their own when treating SAD, evidence has shown that using SSRIs in combination with Light Therapy is very effective Sterner, & Levitt, 1995). Which especially when paired to morning light therapy has been related to “the degree of phase-advance achieved” (Roecklein & Rohan, 2005).
Exercise has also been linked to the effective treatment of both seasonal (SAD) and non-seasonal depression, however it is only when paired with Light Therapy that aerobic exercise becomes a successful treatment for SAD (Pinchasov et al., 2000).
Pinchasov also found that in healthy controls groups, aerobic exercise performed under bright lights are more beneficial than exercise under typical indoor lighting or no exercise. Therefore, outdoor exercise or combining aerobic exercise with light therapy, can help all individuals that according to Eagles (2003) may feel some symptoms experienced as soon as winter comes. Also as exercise can help non-seasonal depression as well, if people may be feeling down it could also be beneficial in helping individuals who may be down due to a season other than winter, or due to just daily weather.
In conclusion, this chapter has shown evidence of SAD (which could be thought of as ‘winter blues’) as well as exploring the other affects seasonality can have on individuals (schizophrenia and bipolar onset, suicide rates) and looked at some of the causes of these things. This chapter also looked at how everyday weather can effect people’s mood and emotions. Lastly the chapter outlines some of the ways in which you can combat or treat the negative effects of seasonality.
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