Can cold, rainy days really get you down? As the skies become gloomier, some of you may have noticed this reflected in your emotions and mood as well. As the rain drops, so too do your good vibes. Is this merely a coincidence? No: bad weather can indeed have a negative effect on your mood.
An important distinction: emotions, feelings and moods
Emotions are short lived feelings that come from a known cause. For example, the sheer relief and happiness you felt when checking you passed your exams last semester were emotions. As emotions sink in and are processed by the brain and body, we experience feelings, which are fuelled by a mix of, and usually last longer than, emotions. Moods are a combination of emotions and usually don’t have a clear starting or formation point. They are more generalised and not linked to specific incidents. Moods are tied to many factors, including the environment (lighting, weather, other people), physiology (our diet, lifestyle, health) and mental state (current emotions, attention). Moods also last longer than emotions, ranging from minutes to hours or even days.
Studies linking mood and weather
There have been studies done linking weather and mood and even into the impact of weather on investment and stock returns! Of the many things making up our weather (read our previous article on weather versus climate here), sunshine is the one most tied to our mood. Sunshine has been found to improve positive moods, dampen negative moods and diminish tiredness. That’s because exposure to sunlight produces Vitamin D in our body, which influences the production of serotonin, a mood-lifter.
Anything that changes our mood can affect our behaviour. Happy people are more likely to treat others favourably and, in turn, are more helpful when the sun is up. For example, Minnesotan diners tipped more generously on sunny days. In another study, which involved a (supposedly) attractive male asking women for their phone numbers, found that the women were more receptive to being approached and flirted with (and give out their phone numbers, as a result), on sunny days! The message is clear: get flirty when its sunny.
There’s a limit as to how much warmer weather may improve moods, with one study finding a link between human aggression and higher temperatures (uhh global warming, anyone?). Interestingly, this is also the case with rain: the higher the rainfall, the more aggressive people become. Temperature can also affect our behaviour: another study demonstrated that as the temperature dropped below or increased above 20°C, people were less likely to lend a helping hand to others. It is important to note here that these studies show correlation (when rainfall is higher, people are more aggressive), not necessarily causation (the weather causes people to be more aggressive).
What’s your Weather Personality Type?
In a 2011 study published in the journal Emotion, researchers found that there were 4 distinct types of people.
- Summer lovers: improved mood with warm and sunny weather
- Unaffected: weather doesn’t influence mood much
- Summer haters: worse mood with warm and sunny weather
- Rain haters: worse mood on rainy days
Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD)
It is important to note, minor fluctuations in emotions and mood with changing weather is quite normal. However, some people may suffer from SAD, which is a type of recurrent major depressive disorder.
When the days get colder and the nights get longer, the motivation to stay in bed all day with a hot cuppa and Netflix becomes unbearably strong. If this drop in energy and concentration, increased sleeping and eating habits and overall lack of energy occurs over many days/weeks, you could have SAD. With SAD, people will have recurrent episodes of depression that occur during the same season each year. This is also referred to as the ‘winter blues’ as it usually rears its head around autumn or winter and disappears by spring. ‘Summer blues’ are typically rare.
Experts think that SAD occurs due to a lack of sunlight. Sunlight can affect our hormones, which in turn can influence our mood, appetite and even sleep. Some people are more susceptible than others. Interestingly, women are four times more likely to develop SAD.
If you feel a dip in mood on those cloudy and not-so-warm days, you should get some fresh air and go for a walk outside. If you think you have SAD, talk to a friend and definitely visit your GP who can help you with managing your symptoms and feel less affected by the weather outside your window.