Does rain make you SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing, discovers a soggy columnist.
IT’S been raining in Hong Kong for a week. And let me reiterate, Hong Kong is where I live currently, so I’ve been waking up to dreary grey days, punctuated by sudden downpours that last minutes or hours but that usually occur while I’m out walking the dog.
When it rains in Hong Kong, it’s not like the rain in other cities. When you exist under a canopy of grey concrete, everything drips, the grit and grime on the street turn into a grey sludge that gets on your shoes and makes spatter marks on the back of your pants.
In short, it’s not fun. Waking up to find yourself in a perpetual rain storm day after day has to affect your mood, and I say this because staring out the window at the smidgen of sky I can see through a little gap among the grey buildings and realising that it too was grey made me want to cry.
Or maybe it was allergies.
In any case, it’s no secret that weather affects our moods. In fact, weather can make you downright SAD. SAD, of course, being an acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It usually occurs in winter months when there is less sun. The scientific reasoning being that with less sun our bodies pumps out more melatonin, which makes us sleepy. This explains that rainy day malaise of wanting to sit on the couch and destroy a bag of fried snacks and then pass out from gluttony. But because of this increased desire to do nothing, our bodies create less serotonin, which in turn affects our mood – so SAD makes people feel sad.
Pause for the slow solitary clapping of one pair of hands.
Cold weather is said to make people lethargic and rainy weather can make people eat, so mix the two together and you have the perfect mix for obesity.
But weather effects on emotion is no joke. Suicides have been linked to certain seasons. Now, you would expect that season to be winter – especially if you’d ever experienced the cold, starkness of an Ontario winter in Canada – but suicides actually peak in spring and summer and decrease in autumn and winter. A study done in 2012 concluded that this was true of both northern and southern hemisphere locations, making this fact independent of culture.
No real reason was given in the study, though a friend from Iceland – where they endure months of darkness in winter – may have hit on why: He told me that no one commits suicide in the winter. Everyone is depressed when it’s dark nonstop. Everyone. So it’s sad but it’s a communal experience. It’s when the sun comes back in spring, and people start to get happy again, and you’re still depressed that you start to think about ending it all.
If the cold and darkness can make people feel depressed, the sun typically does the opposite. Sunlight makes people more helpful. In one study, researchers dressed up as hitchhikers and stuck their thumbs out on rainy and sunny days – and drivers were more likely to pick them up on sunny days. Though that could also be because on rainy days people were more likely to be reminded that some hitchhiker might be a serial killer ....
If you’re a guy, women have been shown in another study to be more willing to impart their phone number to a stranger on a sunny day than a rainy day. Presumably men are willing to hand out their phone numbers at any time of the year ....
And finally, the sun makes people want to spend more money. Researchers found that the sun makes people feel more positive, which makes then want to shed their cash – which, ironically, will probably make them feel negative later, but who cares! The sun’s out!
Now just because the weather can affect our moods doesn’t mean it has to. A study of Dutch teenagers’ moods found that just over 50% were affected by weather; of those,
17% were happier in summer, 27% hated summer – that just sounds unnatural – and 9% were rain haters.
The other way to be unaffected by weather is to avoid it. Another study found that men were more likely to change their plans because of weather while women were less likely to modify their activities, meaning they often are hiking in typhoons. Which explains why I’ve been hiking in typhoons with my girlfriend. (Typhoons courtesy of Tropical Storm Merbock, which hit Hong Kong earlier this month.)
In any case, being outside in any nice weather is said to improve mood, memory, and creativity. So I’m headed out to improve all those things – once it stops raining for five minutes.
Catch Jason Godfrey on Inspiring Homes on Life Inspired (Astro CH 728).