Paint Me SAD: Climatic Conditions and Mental Health

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September 20, 2022

Writers: Jasmin Cyrille Tecson, Rafael Reyes
Researcher: Jasmin Cyrille Tecson, Rafael Reyes
Editor: AJ Mapoy, Jake Lester Villanueva
Peer Reviewer: AJ Mapoy
Graphics: Jacklyn Moral, Sarah Mondoy 
Tweetchat Moderators: Christine Joy Salvacruz

 

“What’s your weather today?” is a question we ask when we want to know someone’s mood or feelings. Despite the lack of research and evidence regarding the relationship between weather and feelings, we unconsciously associate the two. Perhaps that’s because we also associate certain weather conditions with our feelings. 

A 2011 study on the effects of weather on mood identified four distinct reactions depending on the weather’s ambient temperature and precipitation [1]. For instance, there are people whose mood levels directly correlate with warmer weather (summer lovers) while others’ mood levels worsened as it got hotter. The effects of weather can even affect the well-being of employees in their jobs [2]. 

The weather reactivity types identified in the 2011 study have been respected for a decade now mainly because these types were also observed in people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) [1]. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) formally identifies SAD as Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern [3].

SAD particularly manifests during seasonal changes (that is, in the winter and the summer) [3]. Recent progress in SAD research has linked the disorder to biochemical imbalances in the brain due to fewer hours of sunlight in the winter seasons [3].

The rate of precipitation and temperature levels were the key factors in identifying the types of weather reactivity [1]. While winter doesn’t exist in the Philippines, we can frame the regular rainy season as our local equivalent for its heavy and long hours of precipitation.

How Weather Affects Us

Mood

Comfortable temperature ranges (10°C to 21°C), clear skies, and sunlight are factors associated with high mood levels [4]. The inverse is also trending among those with low mood levels [4].

A recent look into how weather affects mood shows that soaring hot temperatures increase aggressive behavior and even escalate into violence and crime than in places with respectable temperatures [5]. These tendencies may be related to how strong heat elevates one’s breathing, heart rate, and makes it harder to dissipate body heat, leading to anxiety and stress [6].

On the other end of the spectrum, cooler temperatures make it so that it’s not as easy to concentrate and easier to fall asleep [7]. That’s one reason rain is one of the many popular sounds online that are curated to help sleep [8].

Energy

Our body takes environmental cues to know how much energy is needed. When the sun is up, it’s time to be alive and awake, but when it’s nighttime, it’s time to rest [4]. We end up with less energy in cold environments, but the capacity rises in warmer places—but only up to a fair threshold.

When seasons change, our bodies’ circadian rhythm adjusts to the shifting times of day and night [3]. Circadian rhythm is essentially the clock that tells our body if it’s time to power up and stay awake or go to sleep and rest. Because there’s only so much we can do in 24 hours, our circadian clocks are necessary to keep our physiological and mental health ready to take on the next day.

While winter SAD is more common, summer SAD also exists when there are unbearable amounts of sunlight in a given day. Tropical countries like Australia have a higher prevalence of summer SAD as a result [12].

Cognition

Adverse weather inhibits our ability to think clearly and make informed decisions [4].

Consider a time when you needed to accomplish something important while it was scorching hot or freezing cold. Your thoughts are clouded by how hot or cold it is to the point that it’s uncomfortable. You then address the discomfort first by drinking some water or wrapping yourself in a blanket. If that situation sounds familiar, you surely understand how hard it is to get a task done under such conditions.

When other parts of our body are being disrupted, it gets difficult for our brains to operate at peak functionality. If we lack energy, our ability to think and process stimuli degrade. If our mood is sour, we become more preoccupied with other thoughts and more reactive.

Lifting Ourselves Up

Knowing about SAD and the effects of weather on our moods is half the battle. What can we do now to lift ourselves when the weather keeps us down?

Bring the light

The consensus with SAD is that the lack of sunlight negatively affects our brains. So, what’s the solution? Let the light in!

Light therapy is one of the leading treatments for SAD, and it uses a lightbox to help correct the circadian rhythm [9, 11]. However, light boxes are typically expensive, and most people can get by letting some sunlight in the room through the windows and curtains.

If you want to go one step further, consider going outside at dawn for a walk. Not only will going on walks provide some physical exercise, but the morning sunshine will grant Vitamin D and serotonin to help improve your circadian rhythm and elevate your mood [9].

Reconnect

Sometimes, we need others to help lift our spirits up. Have conversations with other people, a close friend, family member, or even just an acquaintance you haven’t met in a while. Sometimes it just takes an animated conversation to shift our mood right.

Go the opposite

Have you ever tried listening to a funky song on a rainy day? If not, why not try to set the mood and go on a Cheer Up Playlist on Spotify on gloomy days, or try and watch the fun or entertaining movies as you spend the day with warm socks and hot coffee?

There are indeed moments when we associate weather with our moods, and this association affects our mental health as a result. However, we also believe in human neuroplasticity, that is, our brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt structure and function throughout life and in response to experience [10]. Remember that despite the weather, we are humans capable of owning our feelings. The weather might not change, but emotions can ;-).

Pre-session Activity:

  • “What’s your weather today?” – describe how you feel according to the weather chart (kindly insert a weather chart here for reference, thank you!)

Guide Questions:

  1. What’s your favorite weather/season?
  2. What does a good day/bad day look like for you?
  3. How do you cope when bad weather disrupts your planned day?

Post-session Activity

  • Share a message of hope for someone who’s feeling under the weather.

References

  1. Klimstra, T. A., Frijns, T., Keijsers, L., Denissen, J. J. A., Raaijmakers, Q. A. W., van Aken, M. A. G., Koot, H. M., van Lier, P. A. C., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2011). Come rain or come shine: Individual differences in how weather affects mood. Emotion, 11(6), 1495–1499. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024649
  2. Venz, L., & Pundt, A. (2021). Rain, Rain Go Away! A Diary Study on Morning Weather and Affective Well-Being at Work. Applied Psychology, 70(4), 1856–1871.
  3. Psychiatry.org – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). (2020). Psychiatry.org. https://www.psychiatry.org/Patients-Families/Seasonal-Affective-Disorder
  4. How the Weather Might Affect Your Mood and Energy. (2022, August 12). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/weather-and-mood#risk-factors
  5. Field, B. (2022, April 3). Is the weather affecting your mental health? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-weather-changes-can-affect-your-mental-health-5222029
  6. admin. (2020, July 5). Enlightened Solutions – 5 Ways the Weather Can Affect Your Mental Health. Enlightened Solutions. https://enlightenedsolutions.com/5-ways-the-weather-can-affect-your-mental-health/
  7. McCallum, K. (2021, July 14). Can weather affect your mood? https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2021/jul/can-weather-affect-your-mood/
  8. Riedy, S. M., Smith, M. G., Rocha, S., & Basner, M. (2020). Noise as a sleep aid: A systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 101385. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2020.101385
  9. Taylor, J. (2015, October 14). Can Rainy Days Really Get You Down? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-rainy-days-really-get-you-down
  10. Voss, P., Thomas, M. E., Cisneros-Franco, J. M., & de Villers-Sidani, É. (2017). Dynamic Brains and the Changing Rules of Neuroplasticity: Implications for Learning and Recovery. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01657
  11. Campbell, P. D., Miller, A. M., & Woesner, M. E. (2017). Bright Light Therapy: Seasonal Affective Disorder and Beyond. The Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine : EJBM, 32, E13–E25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6746555/
  12. Ltd, H. P. (2022, April 24). The prevalence of seasonal affective disorder: Where is it most common? HealthMatch. https://healthmatch.io/seasonal-affective-disorder/where-is-seasonal-affective-disorder-most-common

 

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