The Effects of Winter

As temperatures plummet nationwide, many Australians find themselves repeatedly lamenting, “It’s so cold, I can’t stand winter!” Approximately 1 in 300 Australians are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that emerges during the winter months and is marked by feelings of hopelessness, reduced motivation, and lethargy. This condition is even more prevalent in northern countries where shorter days and longer nights exacerbate the lack of sunlight, disrupting serotonin production and the body’s circadian rhythm, leading to mood changes. While not everyone meets the clinical criteria for SAD, many still struggle with the season’s challenges.

The Effects of Winter

A 2015 study involving 1,000 Australians revealed significant winter impacts. Over half of the participants reported difficulty waking up and a tendency to oversleep. Forty-three percent mentioned overeating, especially cravings for carbohydrates and sweets, resulting in unwanted weight gain. Social activities decreased for 42% of respondents, contributing to lower enjoyment and energy levels during these months. Additionally, 1 in 3 people reported feeling down and depressed, while 1 in 4 experienced irritability and pessimism.

The cold weather also affects work life, with 1 in 3 individuals reporting reduced motivation, increased sickness-related absences, and diminished social interaction with colleagues.

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Why Does This Matter to Us?

The weather significantly affects individuals and is an integral part of the environment in which children and families live, much like economic or political factors. Sleep disturbances, mood fluctuations, and decreased motivation, although less dramatic, can intensify existing tensions, increasing the likelihood of conflict. For families already struggling to get children to school and adults to work on time, the added burden of cold weather can turn ordinary difficulties into significant problems. Spending less time outside and socializing, which offers fresh perspectives and time apart from family members, adds further pressure. Additionally, illnesses that spread through the family can lead to lost income and extended time at home, potentially becoming a tipping point and prompting the need for external support.

What Can We Do?

While we can’t eliminate winter, we can work with families to identify and alleviate the most challenging aspects of the season. Understanding when the family functions best together and helping to create these opportunities is a good starting point. For instance, if a family thrives on social engagement and physical activities, finding others who are willing to brave the cold for joint activities could be beneficial. Focusing on sleep and establishing good routines for all family members may help reduce morning tensions.

This time also presents an opportunity to address ongoing issues burdening the family, such as school or work problems, parent-child or adolescent conflicts, or unresolved couple tensions. Tackling these persistent irritants can help a family function more smoothly, even when temperatures drop.

Reference: McCrindle Research (2015). Winter blues: Having real impact in Australia.

Françoise Nicoloff

Official Representative of Tomatis Developpement SA in Australia, Asia and South Pacific, Director of the Australian Tomatis® Method, Registered Psychologist, Certified Tomatis® Consultant Senior, Tomatis® International Trainer and Speaker, Co-author of the Listening Journey Series, 45 Years of Experience, Neurodiversity Speaker

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