“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
- Anne Frank
“Do not let your difficulties fill you with anxiety, after all it is only in the darkest nights that stars shine more brightly.”
- Ali Ibn Abi Talib AS
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Are you finding winter challenging?
Here are some scientific explanations to why this might be the case:
While every season has its own blessings and curses, as we’ve seen recently with the fires from the past summers, winter is traditionally considered the most challenging of all! It is partly our western culture that worships the sun and therefore tends to perceive winter as a season of lack and depletion. It is also due to the particular adversity that arises with winter. In order to effectively address it, we have to take a close look into how it impacts both our physiology and psychology.
If you are finding winter challenging, be sure to check out my gift below this article!Understanding the challenges of winter: from physiology to emotions.
1. Fewer hours of sunlight : physiology, cognitive and emotional impact.
The lack of light can cause our brain to produce too much of the sleep hormone melatonin and to release less serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that affects our mood. As a result of this chemical imbalance, we may feel some or all the symptoms that have been formally associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD):
a. We may feel lethargic, unmotivated or even depressed.
b. We may experience impaired cognitive function, including problems with concentration and memory — like having trouble recalling just-learned information or finding the right words when speaking.
c. We may have problems with sleep.
d. We may be dealing with cravings for comfort food.
e. We may also feel more vulnerable emotionally and experience social withdrawal.
2. The dual impact of the cold
a. The cold can create thermal stress. Like any stress, it triggers a fight-or-flight response. The release of cortisol caused by stress keeps the system revved up until the threat (the cold in this case) is perceived to have passed. Then the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation part of our autonomous nervous system) takes over and returns the body to a relaxed state when we reach a warm and cozy home for example.
b. The Physiology of Cold and of Fear are similar:
Our body reacts to the cold in a similar way as to emotions such as fear, anxiety and sadness: it is constricting and withdrawing for self protection.
It is therefore very easy to slide from the purely physical state of cold to these emotions that FEEL so similar.
As our brain then strives to understand the threat that is perceived, it easily falls into habitual anxious loops of thoughts which create even more stress. A chain reaction gets triggered into seeing more of the sad, frustrating or scary sides of life, remembering such moments from our past or fearing them in our future.
It is important to realize that both temperature and emotions are regulated by the hypothalamus. It's no wonder that winter can slip into a season of emotional struggles if we don’t adjust accordingly.
This year, additionally the typical winter health threats are also heavily magnified with Covid-19. Make sure to use an abundance of caution and follow all safety guidelines closely for your health.
Understanding these very real conditions allows us first and foremost to not make it personal and to quit wondering “what is wrong with me for having such a hard time?” Maybe it is getting up in the morning, or getting motivated, or feeling clear, or being positive?
Based on this understanding of how our physiology and psychology are so intricately connected, we can take deliberate empowering action! Indeed our whole experience of life depends on our ability to adjust accordingly, a universal but also very personal act of finding one’s own balance.