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.

CLOUDY AND DULL SKIES

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.

PEO­PLE TEND TO PER­FORM BET­TER AT MEM­ORY TASKS ON DULL DAYS THAN THEY DO ON SUNNY DAYS

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.

LONG, SUNNY DAYS

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.”

EX­TREME HEAT OR RAINFALL

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.”

FLOODS AND DROUGHTS

“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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