Please Note: Only COVID-19 vaccinated adults and children over 5 can attend the Clinic.

The Cost of Winter

With the sudden drop in temperature across the country, the constant refrain has become ‘It’s so cold and I hate winter!’ It is estimated that about 1 in 300 Australians find winter so miserable that they are diagnosed with a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder, characterised by feelings of hopelessness, decreased motivation to engage in enjoyed activities and lethargy. The rates are even higher in northern countries with shorter days and longer nights and the suggestion is that lack of sunlight impacts serotonin production and disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, resulting in these mood changes. While few people fit the criteria for this formal diagnosis many still find winter challenging.

The Effects of Winter

A 2015 research study of 1,000 Australians identified significant effects, with just over half reporting difficulty waking up and oversleeping. Forty-three percent reported overeating, with specific cravings for carbohydrates and sweet foods meaning small but not welcome weight gains. Winter also saw a reduction in social life (42%) which may also contribute to less enjoyment and reduced energy over these months. 1 in 3 people described feeling down and depressed, while 1 in 4 spoke of irritability and feelings of pessimism.

Work is also impacted by the weather with 1 in 3 speaking of reduced motivation, more time off work through sickness and less social connection with colleagues.

Why Does this Matter to Us?

The weather and its impact on individuals are just as relevant a part of the system in which children and families live as economic or political circumstances. While less dramatic, difficulty with sleep, mood and motivation will exacerbate tensions which may already exist, increasing the possibility of conflict. A family already struggling to get children to school and adults to work on time may find the added burden of chilly weather transforms an ordinary difficulty into a problem. Less time outside the home and socialising, which may allow for a different perspective on relationships and time apart from other family members, adds another layer of pressure. Finally, sickness which spreads through the family, which may mean lost income and additional time at home may prove a tipping point and motivation to seek outside help.

What Can We Do?

No practitioner can remove winter, but we may be able to work with the family to explore which aspects are most onerous and how they may be ameliorated. Understanding when the family works best together and aiming to help create these opportunities may be a good place to start. For example, if a family thrives on high levels of external engagement and physical activity how might they source others like them who are willing to brave the cold and plan joint activities? Attention to sleep and establishing good routines for all family members may help limit morning tensions.

This is also an opportunity to explore on-going matters that are burdening the family and address these. This may include issues with school or work, parent child or adolescent conflict or unresolved couple tensions. Working with these matters that are ongoing irritants at any time of year may allow a family to function better next time temperatures plummet.


MccrindleResearch (2015) Winter blues: Having real impact in Australia.

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