Picture this: you wake up on a bright, sunny morning and instantly feel a surge of energy and positivity. The world seems full of possibilities. On the contrary, on a gloomy rainy day, you might find yourself feeling a little down, lacking motivation, and even craving comfort foods. It’s no secret that weather can influence our mood and overall mental well-being, but is weather depression a real phenomenon? Learn more about the intriguing relationship between weather and mental health.
Rainy Days and Melancholic Moods
You may have experienced the dreary rainy day outside matching your mood — even feeling depressed in the rainy weather. Feeling gloomy on a rainy day is not just a cliché. Studies have shown that rainy days can indeed affect our mental state. One reason is the lack of sunlight, which can disrupt our circadian rhythm and impact the production of mood-regulating hormones like serotonin. As a result of climate change, we’ve been experiencing more stretches of gloomy weather that can dampen our moods, potentially resulting in poorer mental health.
The Sun’s Uplifting Power
You may find the sun brings warmth, light, and a surge of positivity. We’ve often heard how exposure to sunlight can be harmful, but it can also be beneficial when done safely. Exposure to sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D, which plays a crucial role in mood regulation and also promotes the release of serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter associated with happiness and well-being. It’s no wonder that sunny days often leave us feeling more energetic, motivated, and even more social.
Low serotonin levels are associated with a higher risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as major depression. The WHO states that only 5 -15 minutes of sun exposure on your hands, face, and arms is enough to keep your vitamin D levels high enough to boost your serotonin levels.
Serotonin affects multiple different parts and functions of our bodies, such as:
- Bowel Movements: Most of our serotonin is produced in our intestines and helps with the controlling and functioning of bowel movements.
- Sleeping and Waking: Neurotransmitters are responsible for our ability to stay awake, which helps us switch between REM and non-REM sleep.
- Nausea: When serotonin is released faster than your body can digest it – it can cause a sense of nausea which can lead to vomiting.
A study analyzed a group of teenagers to see how many of them were affected by changes in the weather. The study introduced 4 weather personality types:
- Summer lovers: Consisted of 17% of the group. They were happier and less angry on days with more sunshine.
- Summer haters: 27% of the group were less happy and angrier when there was more sunshine.
- Rain haters: 9% were angrier and less cheerful on days with more rain and precipitation.
- Unaffected by weather: The remainder of the study participants – 48%, were mostly unaffected by the changes in the weather.
So, although the weather may not affect everyone, it certainly can impact some.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
As the seasons change, so does our mental health, affecting mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern, typically occurring during the fall and winter months when sunlight is limited. About 2-3% of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetimes, while 15% will experience it in a milder form. SAD is influenced by a combination of factors, including reduced exposure to sunlight, disruption in melatonin and serotonin levels, and changes to our body’s internal clock.
In general, there are two types of SAD: winter-pattern and summer-pattern. Summer-pattern SAD includes symptoms such as agitation, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, and increased restlessness. In contrast, winter-pattern can include daytime fatigue, overeating, and lack of interest in hobbies and activities. SAD’s primary cause is a disruption to the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep-wake cycles and other bodily functions.
The Impact of Climate Change on Mood and Mental Health
The effects of climate change go beyond just the environment and can have a significant impact on our mental health. The consequences of global warming include extreme weather events, natural disasters, and rising sea levels, which can take a toll on our emotional well-being. This has led to the emergence of a new phenomenon called eco-anxiety, which is characterized by feelings of fear and helplessness about the uncertain future of our planet. People are experiencing grief and loss as they witness irreversible damage to ecosystems, species extinction, and displacement of communities.
With the increased accessibility of social media, constant exposure to images and news about climate change can lead to sadness, anger, and despair. Additionally, the increased frequency of heatwaves, air pollution, and the spread of diseases associated with climate change can cause physical discomfort and illness. The urgency of addressing climate change and the daunting task of mitigating its effects also contributes to chronic stress. Climate change affects mental health, making it all the more important to address now.
Coping With Mood Fluctuations
One of the most common treatments for SAD is light therapy. This involves exposure to bright artificial light, often from a specialized source that mimics natural sunlight. Light therapy helps to regulate our body’s internal clock, improve our mood, and alleviate symptoms of SAD. It is typically used for a specific duration and at specific times of the day, as recommended by a healthcare professional.
Counselling and Medication
In addition to light therapy, other treatment options for SAD may include counselling, particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals identify negative thought patterns and develop healthier coping strategies to manage depressive symptoms. A physician may also prescribe medication in some cases.
Self-care practices play a crucial role in managing SAD. Regular exercise, such as aerobic activities or yoga, can help boost mood and increase energy levels. Maintaining a well-balanced diet and ensuring adequate vitamin D intake, which can be deficient during winter months, is also beneficial. Prioritizing good sleep hygiene and managing stress levels through relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can further support overall well-being.
While the influence of weather on our mental health is well-documented, it’s important to note that not everyone experiences the same effects. Some people thrive in cooler temperatures, finding solace in relaxing activities and winter sports. Others may adore the sound of rain, finding it therapeutic and comforting. Our unique personalities, past experiences, and overall resilience play a role in how weather impacts us individually. It’s all about embracing our differences and finding the silver lining, regardless of the forecast!
Managing Your Mood Regardless of Forecast
From rainy days to sunny skies, the weather undeniably affects our mental health and mood. Whether it’s the biological impact of sunlight, the nostalgia invoked by a particular season, or the simple fact that we are affected by nature — weather and our well-being are connected. If it feels like the weather is greatly impacting your mood, it may be time to seek help from a professional who can guide you and provide you with the tools necessary to prevent or manage your mood changes, anxiety, or depression during seasonal changes. Connect with a counsellor today.