Sur­pris­ing ways weather af­fects your mood

Rain giv­ing you the grumps? Astha Gupta in­ves­ti­gates the un­ex­pected ways Mother Na­ture can af­fect your men­tal well­be­ing

Sunday Tasmanian - - Body+soul -

When I moved to Sin­ga­pore from Syd­ney with my fam­ily for a few years, my hus­band turned into a grump. While I thrived in the glo­ri­ous cli­mate, his tem­per­a­ment took a dive. “It never changes,” he moaned, “It’s bor­ing.” My mood, on the other hand, was as sunny as the skies. If the the­ory is that sunshine in­creases feel­ings of hap­pi­ness, I won­dered why we had such op­pos­ing re­ac­tions to the ex­act same con­di­tions.

Think about how much the weather im­pacts your life – you plan hol­i­days and wed­dings around it, you check it in the morn­ing to help you de­cide what to wear and it will cer­tainly af­fect the ac­tiv­i­ties you get in­volved in, such as go­ing for a run in the park on a clear day or hang­ing out on the couch on a rainy one.

But what about your mood and over­all emo­tional well­be­ing? Some sci­en­tists be­lieve that weather has a huge in­flu­ence on our mood and be­hav­iour.

“Cli­mate change is af­fect­ing our weather through global warm­ing, which in turn, is lead­ing to in­creased men­tal-health prob­lems,” says Dr He­len Berry, pro­fes­sor of cli­mate change and men­tal health at The Univer­sity of Syd­ney.

Oth­ers think the ef­fect is more sub­tle. Nick Haslam, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne, ex­plains there are many more vari­ables in­volved than a sim­ple causal link of light equals happy and dark equals sad – or SAD (sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der), a much-talked-about sea­sonal af­flic­tion.

“If you live in a place where gloomy weather is com­mon, for ex­am­ple, it’s less likely to af­fect you badly than if it’s atyp­i­cal,” Haslam says. “If you’re used to lower tem­per­a­tures, a heat­wave will have more neg­a­tive ef­fects on your mood and bod­ily com­fort than if you’re used to liv­ing in a hot en­vi­ron­ment.”

Read on to dis­cover some sur­pris­ing ways weather can af­fect your men­tal state.


Feel­ing happy makes you think clearly, right? Wrong.

Re­search con­ducted by psy­chol­o­gists at the Univer­sity of New South Wales has shown that peo­ple per­form bet­ter on mem­ory tasks on dull days, when your mood is likely to be lower, than you do on sunny ones, when your mood is likely to be brighter.


Quizzed on 10 un­usual ob­jects they had just seen in a store, shop­pers cor­rectly re­called three times as many ob­jects on the cloudy days as on sunny ones.

Study lead Joseph For­gas ex­plains that in a neg­a­tive mood, peo­ple think things through more thor­oughly and pay more at­ten­tion to de­tail as peo­ple tend to be more con­fi­dent and less fo­cused on their sur­round­ings when in a good mood.

“Peo­ple do bet­ter at tasks in­volv­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail in the ex­ter­nal world when they are in neg­a­tive-mood states,” says Haslam.


You pro­duce vi­ta­min D when your skin gets sun­light, which pro­motes your brain’s pro­duc­tion of sero­tonin, the ‘feel-good’ hor­mone. Less sun­light means more mela­tonin – the hor­mone that sig­nals that it’s time for bed. So more sun­light means more en­ergy, says Haslam.

This ‘happy’ feel­ing can af­fect other ar­eas of your life – one US study found that peo­ple gave more gen­er­ous tips on sunny days, while a French study dis­cov­ered women were more re­cep­tive to flir­ta­tious ad­vances when the sun was shin­ing.

Again, Haslam cau­tions th­ese are not sim­ple cause-ef­fect sce­nar­ios: “The sunny sea­son is of­ten the time peo­ple take va­ca­tions, so that could be a rea­son they’re more re­laxed.”


While sunny days seem to im­prove your mood, the op­po­site can hap­pen when warmth be­comes ex­treme heat.

In fact, heat­waves have been linked to in­creased in­ci­dences of vi­o­lence and ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour. “Ex­treme heat leads to in­creased ag­gres­sion, in­stances of rape, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, ri­ots and ir­ri­ta­tion,” ac­cord­ing to Dr Susie Burke, a se­nior psy­chol­o­gist at the Aus­tralian Psy­cho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety.

This is a con­cern­ing rev­e­la­tion see­ing as the world is ex­pected to get even hot­ter in the com­ing decades due to global warm­ing.

A sig­nif­i­cant anal­y­sis car­ried out at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley found that ex­treme heat as well as ex­treme rainfall in­creased the in­ci­dences of con­flict – both in­ter­per­sonal, as in per­son-on-per­son vi­o­lence, and in­ter­group con­flict, as in ri­ots and wars.

Again, the ex­perts have put for­ward dif­fer­ent ex­pla­na­tions for why this could be.

One the­ory sug­gests that ag­gres­sion is brought on by the in­creased phys­i­cal stress on the body and dis­com­fort. An­other is that be­cause more peo­ple are out and about on warmer days, there are more op­por­tu­ni­ties for crimes to oc­cur.

Burke adds peo­ple with men­tal-health is­sues are par­tic­u­larly at risk in the heat: “Peo­ple with men­tal-health prob­lems may be vul­ner­a­ble as some psy­chi­atric med­i­ca­tions are less ef­fec­tive in ex­treme heat and some im­pair the body’s abil­ity to sweat and the per­son can’t cool down.”

If the rain is too heavy, your ir­ri­tabil­ity could in­crease, Burke adds. “Ex­treme rainfall can also lead to in­creased ag­gres­sion be­cause peo­ple may feel their sense of well­be­ing is miss­ing.”


“Droughts and floods – both caused by ex­treme weather con­di­tions – in­crease peo­ple’s phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal stress. This is due to loss of in­come as well as break­down of so­cial struc­tures,” says Berry.

Burke adds that while such events can re­sult in men­tal strain, such events can also strengthen so­cial bonds.

“Ex­treme weather dis­as­ters are of­ten chaotic and fo­cused on sur­vival at im­pact, but af­ter a few days, dis­as­ter ex­perts note there’s a re­bound or hon­ey­moon phase, which is char­ac­terised by great sol­i­dar­ity, co-op­er­a­tion, good­will and help,” says Burke.

“There can be a great sense of ‘we’re all in this to­gether’. Strangers come to­gether to help each other and com­mu­nity spirit strength­ens.”

So whether the sun is shin­ing bright or clouds are block­ing its rays, your mood will be af­fected – for bet­ter or worse.

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