Anxiety in the Winter

Health Writer

How much does weather affect our moods? After years of research, scientists still aren't exactly sure. It is generally believed that weather does impact how we feel, however, no one is sure how strong the link is between the weather and our mood. In another article, I addressed how the summer heat can increase symptom of anxiety in some people. In this piece I discuss how and why the cold winter months make some people more anxious.

Certainly we know and understand that many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, most often during the cold weather and possibly caused, at least in part, by less sunlight and less exercise and less time spent outdoors. Sensitivity to weather changes might be linked to changes in air pressure, temperature and humidity. According to Manfred Kaiser, some of the health related ailments associated with changes in weather include, "increased irritability and aggressiveness, anxiety, depression, listlessness, fatigue, lack of concentration, sleep disorders, headache and migraine, heart and circulation irregularities, nausea, dizziness, scar pain or phantom pain, and rheumatic pain."

Our modern conveniences, such as dehumidifiers, humidifiers, air-conditioners and even heaters have lessened our ability to cope with changes in temperature because we live in relatively the same temperature year round. Mr. Kaiser suggests spending more time outdoors, exposed to the different temperatures to help build a resistance to weather sensitivity.

"With the onset of winter, and often feeling claustrophobic, many anxiety patients find their anxiety is worsened by the changing of the season and the tendency to feel "cabin fever", or a general inability to venture outdoors freely. In addition, the tightness of the air molecules, associated with winter, can put a strain in our ability to breathe normally and this can cause panic in those who live with an anxiety disorder."

In addition, the onset of the cold months means the beginning of the holiday season, which is a cause for increased anxiety for many people. During the holiday season stress increases, we don't always eat properly, our sleep might decrease. We worry about finances and about family get-togethers. All of this puts extra pressure on those living with anxiety and makes it even more difficult to cope.

So what can you do to manage anxiety during this time of year?

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Keep up with or start an exercise program
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Spend some time outdoors every day, no matter what the weather, even if it is just 15 minutes per day
  • Talk to your doctor about your increased anxiety symptoms and discuss whether a change or adjustment in medication is needed

For more information:

20 Ways to Deal with Holiday Anxiety

Seasonal Affective Disorder