depression-in-the-winter

Yes, Your PMS is Worse in the Winter. Here's How to Cope.

Low moods are draining all year round, but depression in the winter can feel like an entirely different animal.

Due to the unfortunate interplay between PMS and the winter blues, seasonal depression affects women’s mental health in uniquely challenging ways. But while it’s common for PMS symptoms to worsen in the winter months, it doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.

This article explains why periods can be especially burdensome in colder months, and how to help soothe winter’s iciest PMS symptoms.

​​If you’re struggling with severe depressive symptoms, or if symptoms outlast the winter months, don’t struggle alone. Contact a mental health provider to get the support you need.


Depression in the winter uniquely affects women’s mental health

Emotional PMS symptoms like mood swings, sadness, and irritability are common in the weeks before and during your period—no matter the time of year. Mood-related symptoms are part of the PMS struggle for most menstruating women [1].

Like all matters of the menstrual cycle, PMS is the product of fluctuating hormone levels. The hormones that drive your cycle (primarily estrogen and progesterone) don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re heavily influenced by emotional and environmental stressors; the more stress they endure, the worse PMS symptoms may be, including emotional symptoms [2, 3].

That’s why when you throw shorter days and biting temperatures into the PMS mix, and periods in winter could have you going full abominable snowwoman, hibernating in blankets, hoarding the comfort foods, and choosing violence at small inconveniences.

De Lune created Steady Mood as a natural way to relieve mild to moderate PMS symptoms like mood swings, brain fog, and fatigue. By supporting your entire menstrual cycle with nutrients and herbs that support hormonal health, you can enjoy multi-symptom PMS relief—especially when the winter blues strikes.

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What is a seasonal affective disorder?

The seasons affect our mood all year round. Much like the natural highs and lows of the menstrual cycle, the change of the seasons lends a natural rhythm that influences how we feel throughout the year. Summer months tend to come with a natural high (just like the ovulatory phase of the menstrual, or “inner summer”), and winter months are generally a low (like the menstrual phase, or “inner winter”).

To some degree, it’s normal for emotions to ebb and flow with the seasons, but they shouldn’t erode your mental health. When negative winter emotions cause significant distress in your daily life, it’s referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Aptly named, SAD is defined as a mood disorder characterized by the predictable onset of depression in the fall/winter months, with remissions in the spring/summer period [4]. Symptoms are usually mild to moderate in intensity [5].

Research shows SAD presents differently in women compared to men. It’s more common for women to experience carbohydrate cravings and prominent fatigue, and sleep more than usual during winter depressive episodes [6].

Why women and men have different experiences of SAD isn't well understood, but the interplay between SAD, serotonin, and the hormones of the menstrual cycle are likely responsible. Some research suggests that reduced sunlight affects serotonin levels, a brain hormone that regulates mood. Research also shows that serotonin and PMS are tightly linked [7], and changing estrogen levels affect serotonin. When estrogen drops right before your period (a drop that cis-gendered men don’t experience), your serotonin levels and mood drop with it [8].

It’s important to note that you don’t need to be diagnosed with SAD to know that you’re suffering! If these symptoms sound familiar, you may be living through what we call ‘winter blues’.


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Symptoms of winter blues

Common symptoms of the winter blues include sadness, food cravings, social withdrawal, and sleeping a lot [9]. These symptoms are caused by a combination of wintery factors that can take a toll on mental health.

For example, sunshine—an amenity that’s in short supply during the winter—helps make vitamin D and dopamine, both of which boost mood, pleasure, motivation and concentration. With less daylight, the mood swings we experience during our period can intensify and feel more difficult to cope with.

Winter also often means spending more time indoors, moving less, and eating more. This can have a negative impact on premenstrual symptoms because research shows that women who are more active tend to have more regular and manageable cycles than those that moved their body less [10].

Between inclement weather and scraping ice off your car's windshield, winter may also prolong your commute. You may struggle to get your steps in because sidewalks are too icy or temperatures are too cold, and the resulting cabin fever can contribute to winter blues and worsening PMS [11].


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Ways to beat the winter blues

We can’t control the seasons, and aren’t able to change all of the external reasons we experience more depression in the winter. But we can take care of ourselves when depressive feelings arise. Here are some tips to try:


Shift our mindset.

What if we could find ways to proactively enjoy these winter months instead of dreading them? Winter gives us an opportunity to get creative in what brings us joy. We can indulge in hot beverages, wrap up in comfortable blankets, spend time outside trying a winter sport, and fill our bellies with lots of soups. What a time to try new hobbies that work best indoors, if it’s too cold outside for our regular activities!


Let the light in.

We know that sunshine is a natural serotonin booster. Open the blinds; sit close to a sunny window; step outside during a break in the day. Even a few minutes of exposing ourselves to sunlight each day can give our brain the lift it needs.


Plan ahead.

Get something on your calendar that you can look forward to. This can be anything that brings you excitement, release, and contentment. Scheduling something we like allows our brain to be forward-thinking, reminding us that our hard moments will pass and that there is good in our future.


Practice a flexible routine.

Create a small and personal routine for waking hours, prepping for bed, or a midday energy boost. Routines bring comfort due to most humans thriving on dependability. Be open to figuring out what feels good for your body. If something in your routine isn’t working for you, that’s ok! Now you know and can find other ways to create a sense of grounding.


Ask for help.

Reach out to those who know you. One of our core needs as humans is connection. Even if you just need a listening ear, your relationships can help you brainstorm more tips and tricks for surviving and thriving within the winter months.





Alisha Miller, MS, LCMHC, NCC, is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in  North Carolina. She believes that all humans deserve access to thoughtful, evidence-based ethical care that caters to each persons’ specific needs and goals. Alisha finds joy in working with her clients through relational and personal boundaries, self-compassion, and trauma-informed bodywork. Alisha has worked in the university setting, private practice settings, and non-profit agencies utilizing an integrative, client centered approach. She diligently works with clients in areas that encompass her clinical certifications in Internal Family Systems Theory, Acceptance and Commitment Therapies, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies.



This information is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any condition.


References

1. https://femaleforwardtogether.com/state-of-the-cycle/

2. Ziomkiewicz, A., Pawlowski, B., Ellison, P. T., Lipson, S. F., Thune, I., & Jasienska, G. (2012). Higher Luteal Progesterone Is Associated With Low Levels of Premenstrual Aggressive Behavior and Fatigue. Biological psychology, 91(3), 376-382.

3. Kalantaridou, S. N., Makrigiannakis, A., Zoumakis, E., & Chrousos, G. P. (2004). Stress and the Female Reproductive System. Journal of reproductive immunology, 62(1-2), 61-68.

4. Rosenthal, N. E., Sack, D. A., Gillin, J. C., Lewy, A. J., Goodwin, F. K., Davenport, Y., ... & Wehr, T. A. (1984). Seasonal affective disorder: a description of the syndrome and preliminary findings with light therapy. Archives of general psychiatry, 41(1), 72-80.

5. Partonen, T., & Lönnqvist, J. (1998). Seasonal affective disorder: A guide to diagnosis and management. CNS drugs, 9(3), 203-212.

6. Leibenluft, E., Hardin, T. A., & Rosenthal, N. E. (1995). Gender differences in seasonal affective disorder. Depression, 3(1‐2), 13-19.

7. Rapkin, A. J. (1992). The role of serotonin in premenstrual syndrome. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 35(3), 629-636.

8. “Seasonal Affective Disorder Affects Women More than Men.” University of Utah Health, https://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=1_qarwlqvf.

9. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression

10. Omidvar, S., Amiri, F. N., Firouzbakht, M., Bakhtiari, A., & Begum, K. (2019). Association between physical activity, menstrual cycle characteristics, and body weight in young south indian females. Age (y), 11(15), 226.

11. Wurtman, Judith. “Winter and PMS Woes.” Psychology Today, 10 Dec. 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-antidepressant-diet/201512/winter-and-pms-woes.

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