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On the intuitive level, we are aware of the fact that weather influences our mood. Recent scientific data seem to confirm this fact. New findings also suggest that weather affects not only individual mood but the behavior of large groups of people.

Everyone is well aware that extreme temperatures, be they extremely high or extremely low, are harmful for our bodies. What is interesting to note, though, is that this health threats take a hit not only on our general physical well-being, but also on our mental welfare.

Several scientific studies have tried to tackle the question of if our mood can be indeed significantly affected by the weather and weather variations.

This question sparks an additional interest if one considers the possible consequences of such effect given the present dangers of climate change. Global warming is undoubtedly here, and therefore the eventual effects of weather on mood can only be heightened in the years to come.

Winter sadness, or something more serious?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), although fairly uncommon, has long been established as an actual psychological problem. Many of us have a genuine dislike for winter - we are less active and we may not have as much fun. This can surely bring us down, but it is nothing when compared with what individuals diagnosed with SAD feel. SAD is a clinically recognized, seasonally recurrent depression, which usually starts during the fall or winter and subsides in the spring. It is characterized by the typical depressive symptoms of long-lasting sadness and hopelessness and other, more atypical symptoms, like longer sleep duration and carbohydrate craving. Cognitive symptoms, such as memory and learning impairment, are also present.

Several findings about seasonal effects suggest that exposure to sunlight immediately improves mood and cognitionand this has been observed not only in people with SAD, but also in people diagnosed with other forms of depression. Placebo-controlled studies documented that artificial sunlight (produced by a very bright lamp) improves mood and diminishes SAD symptoms for a majority of SAD and non-SAD depressed people.

What is more, exposure to sunlight seems to immediately affect serotonin levels among depressed individuals, suggesting that weather does influence mood.

Serotonin is one of key chemicals in our brain, and changes in its level substantially influence not just our brain function but also our general perception of environment and people around us.

Extreme weather can significantly affect our mood

It is not just the seasonal fluctuations in weather that can bring about distress. Extreme meteorological events, like floods, tsunamis and hurricanes can also have public mental health implications in those areas at a higher risk for these phenomena. Obviously there are some people who cope better than others with these difficult situations. Broadly, vulnerability factors are variable and include preexisting factors such as cultural, social, and economic background, natural disaster-related factors, such as type of event, magnitude of event, threat to the life, and extent of loss; and post-disaster factors, such as social support, coping skills, and secondary stressors (e.g., becoming unemployed).

A study, published in 2013, looked at all the existing evidence on the potential impact of natural disasters specifically on suicidal behaviors and the results were rather complex. Comparisons between countries and different sorts of events are difficult, because variability limits the reliability of such comparisons. However, the authors highlight some interesting findings. For example, suicide ratesdropped after the Northridge earthquake in the US for both genders and for males after the Kobe and Niigata-Chetsu earthquakes in Japan. 

The shared experience of going through a traumatic event, contrary to popular belief, seems to actually increase our psychological resilience.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • KÕLVES, K., KÕLVE, K. E. & LEO, D. D. 2013. Natural disasters and suicidal behaviours: A systematic literature review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 146, 1-14
  • KELLER, M. C., FREDRICKSON, B. L., YBARRA, O., CÔTÉ, S., JOHNSON, K., MIKELS, J., CONWAY, A. & WAGER, T. 2005. A Warm Heart and a Clear Head: The Contingent Effects of Weather on Mood and Cognition. Psychological Science, 16, 724-731.
  • Mindmap by steadyhealth.com
  • Photo courtesy of Robert S. Donovan by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/13168384024

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