Many of us have moods that are changeable like the tides, and like the tides, for many of us those moods are dictated by many things including the weather. While you might think that you ‘just woke up on the wrong side of bed’ it may in fact be that there are other things at play here – diet, tiredness, weather and more. In fact you could probably go as far as to say that the side of bed that you got out of is unlikely to really have had much to do with your mood at all…
Weather is one particularly large indicator of how your mood is going to turn out for the day, and if you have ever thought that the weather seems to be an apt metaphor for your mood (a pathetic fallacy as it is known in literature) then most likely the link is there indeed but the correlation is actually working the other way around. Here we will look in more detail at how the weather can impact human emotion.
The first and most well known way in which weather affects mood is in what is known as ‘seasonal affective disorder’ – abbreviated rather appropriately to ‘SAD’. This condition can also be known as ‘winter depression’, ‘winter blues’ or ‘seasonal depression’ and basically it describes a condition in which the individual finds their mood so tied to the changing of the seasons that they in fact exhibit symptoms close to depression every winter. This condition is recognized in the ‘DSM-IV’ – the ‘Diagnostics and Statistical Manual’ used by psychologists where it is described as a ‘specifier of major depression’.
There are various explanations as to why someone might experience SAD, but generally it is believed to relate to the amount of light. This then means that it is not in fact the cold of winter that causes the depression, but rather the lack of light getting into your brain. When we stand outside in the sun we tend to absorb light through the thin parts of our skulls and this helps to dictate our circadian rhythms (our body clock). Interestingly birds wake up at the crack of dawn because they have suck thin skulls that the light affects them quicker.
The light triggers many chemical reactions in our brains that make us more alert and happy. For one the presence of light means that the brain ceases to produce melatonin – the sleep hormone that makes us tireder and less alert. Because light prevents melatonin production this in turn means that it also makes us more awake, switched on and alert and with more energy. At the same time light can also affect your mood (though this varies slightly from person to person). Sunlight also makes us produce more serotonin and this causes our brain to produce certain hormones and improve neurotransmission. Among the hormone produced as a result of sun exposure is serotonin – the feel good hormone that is used in many antidepressants. Anyone will get affected by this change in sunlight almost everyone should notice their mood is affected by amount of sunlight getting to their brain. However in the case of SAD this effect is amplified to the point where it gets in the way of everyday life.
This means that the winter isn’t the only thing that could cause the effects of SAD – but rather any weather event such as cloud cover that could result in darkness, and other activities that result in a lack of sunlight such as night shift work. However likewise it also means that you can combat the effects of SAD to a degree through the use of such things as daylight lamps which are designed to mimic the appearance of sunlight.
At the same time temperature can also affect mood and this is as a result of energy usage. In the winter our immune systems are going to try harder in order to keep our bodies warm and our heart rate will speed up. All this means that energy is directed toward those tasks and so is not available in as large quantities for other activities. This is why you eat more in winter, but even that can result in further lethargy if our body uses up a lot of energy in order to digest the food.
At the same time this is also why you are more likely to become ill – your immune system is already under pressure from the cold and thus it becomes less able to stave off the attacks from bacteria and viruses. This illness then can contribute to low moods both as a result of the fact that it is frustrating and upsetting to be ill, and also through the fact that being ill results in an even greater loss of energy. Low mood is in fact recognized as one of the symptoms of flu or cold.
For the same reasons the cold has also been noted to worsen chronic pain. So if you have a bad back or bad wrist then this is likely to flare up and give you more grief when it’s colder. If you struggle with chronic pain this is sure to affect your mood and it’s one of the most certain ways to feel depressed or frustrated – particularly if it prevents you from doing the things you want to do.
In order to avoid getting ill then and to avoid the depression that can come from it, make sure to eat lots of vitamins and minerals that can help to boost your immune system and to get plenty of sleep. At the same time make sure to use lots of heating in order to warm the house and to keep illnesses at bay.
Speaking of sleep, that too is affected by the weather and this in turn can make us more likely to feel depressed. If it is cold for instance then you are more likely to sleep more lightly and that gives your body and mind less quality time in which to recover from your day’s activities. Again you are more likely to suffer illnesses and to have low energy, but this can also result in headaches and bad moods. Furthermore you will be getting up in darkness when your body is telling you to go back to sleep and so hormonally you are unprepared for the day. Because you will so often start the day on a downer this can then mean that you end up ‘getting off on the wrong foot’. If you start your day with an argument, or if you start it by forgetting your keys, then this is only going to ruin your mood for the rest of the day even when your hormones have caught up.
Rain makes everything more difficult and though it can’t directly affect your hormones or energy (unless you are standing in the rain in which case you will further tax your energy as your body tries to heat and dry you up), it can affect your lifestyle in ways that are not conducive to a good mood. For instance the rain is likely to mean that you stay in more and socialize less. Socializing is actually one of the most powerful antidepressants of all, as is sunlight as discussed before. Thus if you are staying in you can often start to feel tired and low in terms of your mood, and furthermore the lack of stimulation can arouse feelings of ‘cabin fever’ and frustration.
Meanwhile rain means that you get wet when you walk to your car or to the train station which is frustrating in itself and again likely to cause illnesses. On top of that though it means that more people drive meaning that you will start the day again feeling angry and frustrated.
There are countless different ways in which the weather can affect mood then and this includes direct effects on mood and hormones, as well as more subtle second order impacts. Make sure that you stay warm and dry and that you make up for lower energy in your diet. But at the same time there’s always the option of flying south for the winter – and if you’re really struggling with the weather then why not consider booking your Holiday in winter this year?