How does daylight savings affect your mental health

It's that time of the year again. Unfortunately, aside from the holiday season and more family time, we are also experiencing bad weather and shorter daytime. As we get closer to December 21st, the shortest day of the year, it seems like there is not much daylight left to enjoy, especially during workdays. So even though Daylight Savings Time has its practical benefits, more and more data suggests that the scale should tip in favor of canceling it.


For many years now, there has been an increased demand for making DST permanent due to its effect on people. However, in-depth research suggests that because of it, our body and our brain undergo changes that may be hard to cope with. There are several symptoms that doctors managed to group: fatigue, decreased motivation, disrupted sleep schedule, and eating patterns. They named the syndrome seasonal affective disorder or abbreviated SAD as they occur specifically in winter.


Seasonal affective disorder

SAD has been recognized as a health condition that many people experience without even realizing it. It is identified as a recurrent depressive disorder that we sometimes refer to as the "winter blues." Most likely to suffer from it are young people, females more frequently, and it can also form in the presence of another psychological condition. Most commonly, people tend to report feeling less energetic, more tired, and sleepy throughout the day. Lack of motivation and a disrupted sleep schedule could also happen during this time. Seasonal changes in brain patterns can partially happen because of serotonin deficiency due to decreased hours of daylight, and increased melatonin, the sleep hormone triggered by lack of light. Vitamin D also plays a role as it affects serotonin secretion, and there is a deficit of it when we are less exposed to sunlight. All these symptoms could exacerbate due to lack of physical activity in winter and less time spent outside or with family and friends. In addition, many people also experience stress towards the end of the year due to increased workload or holidays. People who had previous mental conditions also reported a significant drop in overall mental health during winter.


What can you do to ease the effects of SAD?


There are plenty of ways in which you can actively try to feel better:


  • Eat healthier and exercise regularly - creating a healthy meal plan not only leads to energy boosts, but additional time spent on creating meals and recipes could be very motivating. In addition, doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity three times a week to maintain optimal energy levels.
  • Commit to a healthy sleep schedule - One way to fight that urge to stay in bed in the morning is to plan it in such a way that you can't wait to get up. Whether it's a good breakfast, a walk in the sun, or a good book, that's a good way of making time for yourself. In addition, cutting down on screen time before bed and going to sleep on time benefits your long-term goals.
  • Make time for your friends and family - Plan activities together as much as you are comfortable with, as contact with your loved ones could stimulate your mood.
  • Find the sun - If there are any sunny days ahead, benefit from them! As we mentioned, vitamin D is vital for regulating mental health, but overall, spending a day outside in the sun could energize you in a second.
  • Make time and space for yourself - Dealing with a lack of motivation and energy can be very hard. It's important to be kind to yourself as not to worsen your mental state. One of the things that can help you with this is meditation and mindfulness. It can bring your attention to the present and put you in a calmer state. In addition, journaling has shown to be an effective way to change your life in a positive way. You can keep track of your emotions, moods, and all your projects and plans to lower your anxiety levels by committing to it.


Is there a change on the way?

In 2019, the European Union pushed forward a proposal to end DST because of the growing concerns about the health of their citizens. However, after many parliamentary discussions, it will be up to the European Commission to officially revoke it. Still, the issue has been put in the back of the drawer due to the pandemic. There is, however, a potential challenge. Despite the decision of the Parlament, countries would still be able to choose whether or not they would cancel Day Light Savings, which could create even more issues.


There has been a recent shift in the US where 19 states have put forward a proposal that would make Daylight Savings year-round. In addition, in 2019, a bipartisan bill was introduced to Congress called the "Sunshine Protection Act," which aims to make DST permanent. At the same time, a few states in the US are not using DST and have a year-round time zone.


To summarize


Research shows a significant downside to keeping DST seasonal (1), as it affects mental and physical health. We also have opinions of relevant institutions that confirm this and support it (2). However, there hasn't been a significant move on the part of leading governments in the World to make it happen. We've seen plenty of tries, but we are still waiting for that final push to change the law. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do in your everyday life to prepare and combat this state. During those months, good nourishment and physical activity could significantly improve your quality of life. Taking some time for yourself and speaking with a health professional about the possibilities of treatments could also be a good idea. We can look forward to many things during the winter months that can make the time fly by.

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