How Does the Weather and Climate Affect Mental Health?

Although winter doesn’t officially end until 20th March, as the days pass, we edge closer and closer to the end of the coldest months. Soon, warmer days will be upon us, where we will likely feel happier and have more energy.

Have you ever thought about how the weather can affect your mental health?

The rain

Unless you love feeling cosy on rainy days and curling up with a book by the fire, rainy days can get us down. If it’s cold and dreary, the dark and heavy clouds can limit sunlight getting to us, which can impact our mood when it happens for a consistent amount of time. Interestingly, research has found that around nine per cent of people are “rain haters”. While some of us may feel slightly down and tired when it rains, rain haters feel anger with more rainfall. Another study also reported that we take to Facebook to complain with negative posts!

The reason why we feel lethargic during cold and dark weather is because when we’re exposed to less sunlight, our bodies produce more melatonin which makes us tired. A lack of vitamin D from less sunlight exposure can also give us the blues, which when more serious is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – also known as winter depression. So, while you might want to wrap up in a blanket and indulge in comfort food or nap, there is a scientific reason why you want to do nothing.

Symptoms of SAD include:
– Depression
– Feeling lethargic
– A weakened immune system
– Low motivation
– Lack of interest in activities that you once enjoyed
– Oversleeping and struggling to stay awake
– Overeating (particularly comfort food like carbohydrates)
– Feeling anxious
– Withdrawing from social situations
– Feeling in a persistent low mood

The sun

In the same way, vitamin D from sunlight exposure regulates our mood and can help in fighting depression and illnesses. There’s a reason why vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin – sunlight stimulates our brain to produce this important nutrient. Serotonin is also released which boosts our mood and makes us feel good.

The circadian rhythm is affected by sunlight, which is essentially our body clock. Our sleep-wake cycle is a 24-hour cycle and is directly set by light, which lets our bodies know when it is light and dark – day and night – and when we should be awake or tired. In the winter, when there is significantly less light than summer, our brain thinks that we should be getting ready for bed and triggers the release of the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin. So in the summer, when the days are lighter and longer, our brain doesn’t trigger the release of melatonin until later on, giving us more energy.

When it’s hot

When the weather is hot, we can be open to feeling irritable. Research has found that we can get angry or irritated when the weather is warmer as our stress hormones, such as cortisol, rise with the thermometers. If you find that the heat affects your mood, you can shelter under your golf umbrella so you can enjoy the sun without overheating.

When it’s cold

When the weather is cold, we might be more inclined to stay indoors and have less exposure to the sunlight. This can make us feel more lethargic from less vitamin D and serotonin than how we would normally feel.

It’s certainly encouraging to learn that we will have more energy in the summer after a difficult few months in lockdown in winter.