Spring is in the air and if you’re like me, you’ve got a little more pep in your step. There is something about the prospect of leaving the cold, dark winter behind, in anticipation of warmer temperatures, longer days, and a multitude of colors to replace the white, grey, and brown that serves as a blanket from December until March.
If you can’t already tell, I’m not a big fan of winter. I also live in an area where harsh winters and beautiful summers flip up and down like the sole of a sandal.
Like many in my region, I start counting down the days to spring as soon as February ends. Now, sure, I enjoy the weather and all the activities and opportunities that come along with it, but is that the only reason why I feel so good when it gets warmer out? Probably not.
In fact, there are actual differences in your dopamine levels depending on the season, according to a report from the National Institute of Mental Health. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and chemical messenger that transmits feelings, emotions, and other messages from the brain. It is directly involved in how you feel, including your level of motivation, movement, and ability to learn and feel pleasure. Usually, dopamine is associated with risk and reward. It’s essentially the chemical reason you feel good when you do, and vice versa.
The study used brain scans to monitor dopamine levels of 86 people at various times throughout the year. Dopamine levels measured in the fall and winter were more than four percent higher than in the spring and summer. This can possibly be attributed to stress levels.
Although scientists say more research is required, if the results of this study hold true, it means that the environment does impact your brain state. If you’re exposed to more sun and warmer temperatures after experiencing the dark and cold, for example, you may feel happier because your body is reacting to the environment around it. This can go a long way to explain why people are often sluggish in the winter and more energetic in the summer.
There isn’t a lot of scientific data to support the theory that different seasons, weather, and temperature affect your mood. In extreme cases, some people may suffer from a psychological condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a condition that brings on depression during the dark, cold months of winter. If you find yourself sinking into a deep depression in the winter months, it is worthwhile getting checked out. Even if you don’t suffer from that extreme disorder, your body still appreciates the sunnier, warmer weather—and if you find yourself in a better mood, now you know why.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Solis, M., et al., “With the changing of the seasons: dopamine and mood cycles,” Scientific American April 7, 2011;http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=with-the-changing-of-the-seasons.
Rosenthal, N., “How seasonal are you?” Psychology Today December 22, 2008; http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-mind-your-body/200812/how-seasonal-are-you.