Health

What is going on with the weather? And how does it affect our moods?

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Amy Beecham
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Woman in the rain

It’s been one of the wettest Mays on record, but our grumbles about the bad weather go deeper than being annoyed about taking an umbrella to the pub. Here’s how the continued bad weather can affect our moods, body and sleep patterns. 

Well, this doesn’t exactly feel like the beginnings of the Hot Girl Summer we were expecting after restrictions eased, does it?

Much to our dismay, the combination of  drizzle and clammy warmth we saw in May and June appears to be continuing throughout July, with the Met Office issuing multiple yellow weather warnings for thunderstorms across the UK. They also warned that some places could expect to see up to 40mm of rain falling in just one hour. 

It’s certainly a stark contrast to this time last year, when the sunniest spring since records began unhappily coincided with the first lockdown. Of course it’s the case that, now that we can actually legally enjoy being out and about, the weather is thwarting all our best laid plans.

Whether you’re the kind of optimist who huddles under the pub garden parasol to wait out the storm, or you’re choosing to move your meet-ups inside for the foreseeable, you’ll no doubt be as frustrated as we are.

But it seems that wind, rain and lower than average temperatures aren’t just annoying roadblocks to us living our best lives again – they can actually have quite a significant affect on our moods, body and sleep pattern.

Why does weather affect our mood?

It may be a given that grey skies make us grumpy, but there’s actually a lot of science behind why and how the weather affects our mood.

According to one study, nearly 9 percent of people fall into the “rain haters” category – a  group that feels angrier on days with more precipitation. Another study found that rain even increased the number of negative posts published on Facebook.

This may be because, as a study from 1979 suggested, weather affects your mood through symbolic associations. Researchers noted that sunshine and blue skies “could increase mood by stimulating thoughts of swimming, picnics, and other outings, whereas cloudy days could be associated with the disappointment of cancelled plans and the annoyance of rain.” 

We already know that exposure to the sun has a lot of important physical health benefits, and is an important source of vitamin D. Research demonstrates that there is a strong correlation between depression and a lack of vitamin D; the lower the vitamin D level, the greater the chance of a person having depression. What’s more, several studies have also shown sunlight to markedly improve our mental wellbeing and mood, too.  

The weather also affects our ‘momentary happiness’

If you looked out of the window and saw the rain coming down, how would you feel right in that moment? De-motivated? Frustrated? A bit miserable, even? All of the above?

It’s a bit of a no brainer that our immediate mood is actually more affected by the weather than our general wellbeing.

An interesting study from 1983 called people on rainy and sunny days to ask about their current mood and their general well-being. Participants reported higher levels of momentary happiness on days when it was sunny, while on rainy days how people felt was found to be lower.

A more recent study from 2013 also found that people surveyed on exceptionally sunny days indicated higher life satisfaction than respondents interviewed on days with “ordinary” weather. 

We often sleep worse during periods of bad weather

If you’ve struggled to drift off or have woken up feeling groggy this past month, the bad weather might be to blame.

Not only is it a much nicer experience to wake up to the sun shining, barometric pressure – aka the weight of the air above us – also plays an important part. Low barometric pressure often correlates with the kind of cold, stormy weather we’ve had recently. 

According to bed specialists Dreams, low barometric pressure at high altitudes also cause lower oxygen saturation, which can make you drowsy. But being drowsy doesn’t mean you’ll sleep easier –  when there is less oxygen, we find it more difficult to breathe. Air flow is extremely important for getting to sleep and this is why low barometric pressure can have an impact on your ability to nod off.

Low barometric pressure also comes hand-in-hand with low light levels. These low levels of natural light can cause our bodies to produce more melatonin, the hormone our brain produces when we’re tired. 

So, it seems that when the weather is bad it’s harder to sleep, but also harder to stay awake. Great.

Bad weather can make Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) last longer

Sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons – are often helped through the darkest days by the promise of lighter, warmer and brighter ones come spring.

SAD usually begins in the late autumn months and lasts through winter before remission in the springtime, but continuing bad weather into the summer months means that people need to wait even longer for reprieve. And with an estimated 10 to 20% of cases of recurrent depression found to follow a seasonal pattern, that’s a lot of people struggling without the sun.

So good weather isn’t just enjoyable, it actually makes us healthier, especially if we are already susceptible to low moods. The science suggests that otherwise negative moods are improved on days where the weather is good, but there is almost no effect on people who were already feeling positive.

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If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here. Additionally, you can ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

Images: Getty

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Amy Beecham

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