Does the weather really affect our mood?

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The weather we’ve experienced in Lancaster recently has been pretty horrible: the constant downpours, the bitter cold, the awful wind, the crazy hailstones, and that short-lived episode of snow (if that counts). While you may or may not have been subject to it yourself, for many people, bad weather like this can have a serious effect on our moods and our general mental health and wellbeing. For me, a little bit of wind and rain on a cold day in Lancaster can sometimes really get me down and it can make my already stressful day feel like it’s the worst ever.

But the weather’s impact on our mood is a pretty commonplace; I think we can probably all admit to an occasion when getting caught in the wind or rain in town or on campus has changed our moods. Sometimes it can pass, but often it can make us feel gloomy upset, or even snappy for the rest of the day. Generally, we also feel a lot more lethargic in the winter, which can make doing work even more of a chore!

Interestingly, there have been many studies about how and even if the weather affects our mood. In 2008, a group of German researchers led by Jaap Denissen in Berlin looked at the effects of temperature, wind power, sunlight, precipitation, air pressure, and photoperiod on 1,233 participants who lived in Germany at the time. Most of these participants were women aged between 13 to 68 years old, with the average person being 28 years old.

Denissen et al found that the weather’s daily influence had more of an impact on a person’s negativity, as opposed to helping a person become more positive. They found that higher temperatures raise up a person feeling low, while things like wind or not enough sun made a person feel even worse. They also found that although sunlight did have an effect on tiredness, there were no definite relationships between weather and mood due to each individuals own sensitivity to weather. Similar investigations on this topic have also been inconclusive because the results have varied so much depending on the person, showing that the weather really can affect everyone in different ways.

There is a condition called SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) which is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern. It can also be known as “winter blues” or “winter depression” because the symptoms are more obvious and also more severe in the winter. According to the NHS, for about 20% of the UK population, mildly debilitating symptoms of SAD cause discomfort but not serious suffering. Although for about 2%, SAD is a seriously disabling illness which prevents them from functioning normally without the appropriate treatment. Common symptoms include: depression, lethargy, sleep problems, overeating, feeling irritable, low self-esteem, finding it hard to concentrate, social problems, stress and anxiety. In most cases of SAD, it begins to improve in the spring before eventually disappearing.

Obviously, not all of our mood changes at the hands of the weather are examples of SAD, though they may feature some symptoms. Sometimes the weather can just tip us over the edge when certain things in our lives aren’t going our way. But SAD is a serious mental health issue and I would advise anyone who thinks they may have it to find out more information on NHS website and to visit your local GP, as there are specific treatments available for it.

Even if we don’t experience SAD, it doesn’t mean that the weather isn’t affecting our mental health and wellbeing. While the studies show it can depend on your personality as to how much the weather can affect you, there are a number of things that all of us can do to help get through these horrible winter days, which I’m thankful to say are almost over!

Here are some tips to beat the blues:

– It’s almost over. I know it may seem hard to imagine a Lancaster without the cold, but you better believe it: it’s almost spring! So try to keep that in the front of your mind when you’re getting fed up of the weather.
– Also wrap up warm! It may sound really obvious, but you’d be surprised how much it can help – you don’t want to let the weather affect you physically as well as mentally.
– People say it all of the time these days but eating well – yes, that ‘balanced diet’ stuff – really will make you feel better. A lot of the time it may feel like junk food is the answer to the bad mood because it’s comforting and tastes good, but it will make you feel sluggish and ultimately won’t help. However, I’m not saying we should eliminate junk food – we all need a pick me up once in a while!
– Try and exercise. We all know it makes you happy, even if it’s just something small it will give you a buzz!
– If you’ve had a bad day, don’t go home and spend time on your own. Instead, spend time with your housemates to pull yourself out of it, you’d be surprised how quickly a chat or even just watching a TV show will make you forget that the rain has soaked through to your underwear.
– Sleep! And lots of it. Make sure you’re getting a good 8 hours sleep throughout the week at least. That way, when you have to get up for your 9am and it’s freezing cold you’ll at least feel fresh and ready for the day.
– Finally, distract yourself from the winter blues by thinking about your plans for the Easter and the summer breaks – which are far more likely to be better months weather-wise! You could even get a countdown on your phone for everything you have coming up.

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