How seasons impact mood and mindset

With the dark days of winter now behind us, it’s time to say goodbye to the winter blues and welcome mood-boosting sunshine and warmer weather.
Published March 30, 2021

We hear a lot about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which occurs in the winter months when the days get shorter and darker and the “winter blues” set in. But with spring arriving, the increasing sunlight and warmer weather impacts you in a positive way.

The biological impact

The impact of sunlight on mood is real. Exposure to increasing sunshine in the spring causes higher levels of serotonin to be released from the brain. Nicknamed the “happy hormone”, serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which means it helps send messages between nerve cells to regulate many functions in the body. Serotonin is known to play an important role in boosting mood and improving feelings of satisfaction and calmness, all while keeping you alert and focused.

In one study, researchers measured serotonin levels in 101 healthy individuals during each of the four seasons. They compared serotonin levels to various weather-related factors, including temperature, rainfall, atmospheric pressure, and hours of bright light. The researchers found that regardless of season, serotonin levels were directly related to the duration of bright sunshine. Overall, individuals had higher levels of serotonin on bright, sunny days compared to darker, cloudy days.

The natural boost in serotonin levels from exposure to sunlight not only improves your mood, but may also help you sleep better. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, a hormone that synchronizes your biological clock to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Darkness cues your body to increase its production of melatonin which makes you feel sleepy, while sunlight increases production of serotonin, which can help you feel more energized in the morning. So those extra hours of springtime sunshine pay off with a better night’s sleep – and if you are well-rested, that improves your mood too.

Sunlight and the sunshine vitamin

One of the other benefits of additional sunshine in the warmer months is that your body can produce vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Nicknamed the “sunshine vitamin” for this reason, studies have shown vitamin D to have a positive impact on both mood and immune health.

You need approximately 10 to 30 minutes of sun exposure on exposed skin (such as arms, hands, face, and legs) two to three times per week for optimal vitamin D production. Remember to practice sun safety to protect your skin from the damaging effect of UV rays. This may include using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher, wearing a hat and sunglasses, and seeking shade when you need relief from the sun.

A practical approach: How a new season can change your mindset

With the arrival of warmer weather and longer hours of sunlight, you may notice a positive shift in your mood and higher energy levels. Your mindset depends a lot on how you feel, so if you’re feeling better overall because of the warmth and sunshine, your mindset will improve too. You may feel more energized and motivated to make positive changes. Here are some tips to take advantage of the mood and mindset benefits that come with the spring and summer seasons ahead:

Get outside. You may not have been leaving your house much lately. But now that better weather is here, it’s important to make time to get outside every day, even it’s just for a 15-minute walk. This also promotes physical activity, which is especially beneficial after so many months spent at home. Try opening some windows to let extra sunlight in, take a walk at your lunch break or during a phone meeting, or sit outside and read a good book. Either way, make it a priority to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine every day.

Eat seasonally well. Adopting healthier habits is easier when you have a positive mindset around lifestyle changes and your ability to succeed. Use the opportunity of a new season to shop for fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Experiment with new recipes and ways of preparing foods. For example, swap winter soups for Gazpacho, try grilled asparagus as a spring side dish, or pick up a bounty of fresh berries from a local farmer’s market.

Check out this article about how to make the most of spring produce

Write in a gratitude journal. Take some time to reflect on your positive feelings and anything you feel grateful for or were able to accomplish, no matter how big or how small. Try to maintain this practice at least one to three times each week. This forces you to take notice of the good things in your life and what brings you happiness. Regularly keeping a gratitude journal can also help prepare you to deal with challenges or harder times when they do arise. In the meantime, let the sunshine fuel you to reflect on the positive times.