Cities Journal
City Life

Cold City Life Can Bring You Down

If you feel less than happy every winter in the city, you’re not alone. You have to wake up early to start your car before you leave in the morning, not to mention shoveling snow from your driveway and sidewalk, and removing ice from your windows.

Whether you’re a homeowner, commuter or someone who loves the outdoors, cold environments cause frustration due to all the extra work and your inability to comfortably spend time outdoors. However, winter in the city can also cause even more serious problems of the mind.

Seasonal Affective Disorder During Winter

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a real condition that affects people during the winter months, especially when they live in places where it gets cold and dark between December and March. Everyone can feel cooped up due to the adverse weather, but SAD is much more serious. It can lead to oversleeping and withdrawal from social activity, weight gain and appetite change.

The exact cause isn’t known, but it has to do with lowered sunlight during winter. Sunlight helps your body create serotonin, and cold city life can lead to a reduction in serotonin production that causes SAD. Furthermore, low temperatures can play with your circadian rhythm, the natural system that lets your body know when to sleep and wake. The darker it is during winter in the cities, the darker your mood becomes.

A lack of sunlight in winter can also interfere with your body’s melatonin production. This chemical aids in sleep, and disruptions to your sleep often result in moodiness.

City dwellers suffering from seasonal affective disorder may also seek out light therapy. With the use of a light box that emits bright white light for 30 or more minutes every day, many SAD patients are able to lift their depression and get back on their feet.

Of course, you’ll get plenty of sunlight in cities that experience more mild winters or locales closer to the equator. Alaskans, for example, typically experience SAD more often than Texans.

Cold’s Psychological Effect

Even if you don’t have SAD, cold city life can still bring you down. Yale psychologist John A. Bargh suggests that physical warmth can actually make you feel more comfortable and generous while cold feelings causes people to feel lonely. To combat feelings of loneliness, participants on the study often spent more time bathing — and in hotter showers.

The study also examined how participants felt about their jobs when exposed to heat or cold. Subjects reported higher job satisfaction when influenced by heat.

Even being in a room with the air conditioning set too low can cause people to feel less friendly as the insular cortex in the brain reacts to being uncomfortable. If you live in a cold city, be prepared to drink plenty of hot cocoa and take long showers to keep happy.

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