How the Changing Seasons Affect Us and How Art Can Help
Winter is coming...
The nights are getting longer, the days are getting colder and, although Autumn and Winter bring with them lots of beauty and reasons to feel joyful, many people can be left feeling a little gloomy and experiencing the 'Winter blues'.
A sensation of lowness in mood during seasonal transitioning is often attributed to the shorter days – which result in less exposure to sunlight. The NHS website says that the functioning of a small area of the brain called the hypothalamus (which helps stimulate a variety of key processes) can be impeded by a deficit in daylight and that “a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression”. As serotonin is a complex mood modulating hormone, which stabilises our feelings of happiness and well-being (among other things), its clear to see why this could be the case.
The lower levels of daylight during Autumn and Winter can also cause disruption to our circadian rhythm (our body's internal clock), because our bodies rely on sunlight to help us regulate a variety of important functions, including sleeping, eating, and mood-balancing. It’s no surprise, then, that when this is out of balance some people can really feel off-kilter.
Interestingly, an Artsy article describes Dr Norman Rosenthal's studies between seasonal mental health disorders and creativity. He was part of the team who first coined the term SAD (seasonal effective disorder) in the 1980s and who helped innovate light therapy treatments for the condition, and refers to historical and well known artists, such as Vincent Van Gogh, saying “I think that the arts have a very important role in expressing the seasons, and being affected by the seasons...the changing light affected their moods, and that influenced their productivity.”
In particular, he talked of the many letters written by Van Gogh to his brother Theo (sincere representations of his now infamous emotional turmoil) and how he described “capturing the light in the South of France”.
In Winter of 1890 Van Gogh completed his painting Almond Blossom – a glorious depiction of white blossoms against a clear blue sky, purported to represent rebirth and new life, which he gifted to his newborn nephew and namesake. Vincentvangogh.org says that he wrote to his brother Theo: “My work was going well, the last canvas of branches in blossom - you will see that it is perhaps the best, the most patiently worked thing I had done, painted with calm and with greater firmness of touch. And the next day, down like a brute.”
His heartfelt words imply his psychological turmoil, on the one hand battling with deeply depressive thoughts and emotions, and on the other trying hard to embrace his creativity and love of things in which he found beauty; such things as family and Japanese art – about which Van Gogh previously wrote to his
brother of his admiration: “...we like Japanese painting, we have felt its influence, all the impressionists have that in common.”
Highly popular and contemporary artist Sam Toft commented one wintry February evening: “Sometimes I feel like a bunch of those crushed crocuses I see in the park. After so long striving to push their bright little heads up through the mud. But one step at a time, eh? #keeponkeepingon” - her words at once
melancholic yet hopeful. Sentiments which can be seen in her limited edition print In My Thoughts, Always, featuring a hand-holding couple and their dog, composed of a muted neutral palette and set against a empty dimly lit background, with a burgeoning light emanating around the central characters,
as if depicting the darkness of longing alongside the lightness of hope or memory.
As briefly mentioned before, a commonly used treatment for general lowness in mood due to seasonal flux is light therapy (phototherapy), during which a light box is used to transmit controlled artificial sunlight to the recipient, to stimulate typical biological responses and promote harmony.
Regular exercise and getting out in natural daylight as much as possible is also recommended, as well as other lifestyle management measures, such as finding activities which help to reduce stress levels and lighten your mood.
As the colder months inevitably mean more time spent indoors, think about ways to brighten up your living space, from maximising light by adding a well placed attractive mirror, to putting up some cheery new artwork.
Art can provide a considerable form of therapy, whether creating your own, or taking a little time to admire the work of others. The Mental Health Foundation say that “arts can make a powerful contribution to our mental health...can help to boost confidence and make us feel more engaged and resilient...art engagement also alleviates anxiety, depression and stress.”
As Christmas is on the way, why not pick up a few craft supplies and have a go at making some colourful decorations, personalised greetings cards, or even a heartfelt handmade gift?
Try a visit to an art gallery or museum during the winter months too to lift the spirits. You can stay warm indoors, whilst soaking up some culture, and feeling the benefit of a bit of creative energy.
Our Sculpture Garden and Gallery in Fordingbridge is a lovely place to visit.
Enjoy seeing our latest collection of contemporary sculpture, original wall art and art prints displayed beautifully on our walls, and pick up a treat or two to take home to admire for years to come.
Lean on Me When You're Not Strong and And Then the Sun Came Out are gloriously sunny and optimistic limited edition prints by Sam Toft which are sure to enliven your space at home and lighten your heart.
NB Typically seasonal depressions disappear after a few days. If symptoms continue, it may be a sign of a more serious problem that requires help. Always seek advice from a medical professional.