Rainy day blues: why does your mood change with the weather?

Australia is experiencing a cold snap that seems to have no end.

The constantly chilly weather has made layering essential and people’s moods often tend to mirror the grey, gloomy skies.

Many theories have been put forward about how the weather impacts our mood, energy and mental functioning.

Mental health experts have unpacked the biology behind the ‘rainy day blues’, offering helpful advice about how we can rediscover that summertime energy during the recurring showers that are dominating the weather.

How does the weather affect our mood?

Antonio Kalentzis, psychologist and British Psychological Society committee member, explained that the weather significantly impacts our mood and mental health through several biological mechanisms such as serotonin production and our sleep/wake cycle.

Mr Kalentzis said: “Sunshine boosts serotonin levels which improves our mood and promotes feelings of wellbeing.

A man and a woman smiling in the sunshine
More exposure to sunlight increases our levels of serotonin.

“Conversely, cloudy or rainy days can lead to reduced serotonin production, causing feelings of sadness or lethargy.

“Additionally, exposure to natural light regulates our circadian rhythms, influences our sleep patterns and our overall mental health.”

Meanwhile, psychologist Barbara Santini expressed the importance of vitamin D on our mood and brain functioning.

Ms Santini said: “The role of vitamin D, synthesised in the skin through sunlight exposure, also cannot be understated.

“It supports brain health and function, and deficiencies can be linked to depressive symptoms.

“During rainy seasons when exposure to sunlight is minimised, vitamin D production can drop, which may exacerbate feelings of depression or fatigue.”

Side view portrait of an angry man looking outdoors through a window in a rainy day of winter at home
During the rain vitamin D production can drop, which may exacerbate feelings of depression or fatigue, says Ms Santini.

In addition, Dr Laura Geige, medical doctor and psychologist, said that the tumultuous, dark ragged clouds also impact the hormone that regulates sleep, so can lead to fatigue.

She said: “On darker days, the body produces more melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.

“Elevated melatonin levels during the day can cause drowsiness and fatigue.”

What negative impact can this have on our lives?

Ms Santini explains that, from a psychological perspective, weather can influence people’s willingness to engage in activities that can impact their mental health.

For example, grey sombre skies often force people to stay confined indoors, meanwhile bright sunshine usually increases enthusiasm for outdoor activities, which have a positive impact on our energy and serotonin levels.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – defined as a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern – is a notable condition which can be triggered by periods of bad weather.

According to Nuffield Health, symptoms of SAD include low mood, anxiety, stress and increased levels of fatigue.

In more serious cases, SAD can led to increased levels of aggression, insomnia, headaches, reduced appetite and brain fog.

Furthermore, Mr Kalentzis said that rises in temperature can also trigger mood episodes, especially in individuals with specific mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder.

“Elevated temperatures can induce manic episodes due to physiological stress and sleep disturbances caused by heat.

“High temperatures can also lead to dehydration, increased irritability, and anxiety, exacerbating existing mental health issues,” explained Mr Kalentzis.

What can we do to mitigate these negative effects?

We may not be able to halt the upcoming downpours and summon bright blue skies, but mental health experts have put forward a range of lifestyle changes and hacks that we can easily implement into our daily lives to ward off the rainy day blues.

All of the experts we spoke to recommended regular physical exercise to boost energy levels and improve mood.

They were also unanimous in encouraging people to get out and about to get as much sun exposure as possible, even on cloudy days or to opt for light exposure therapy.

Happy young man hiking in countryside
Experts encourage people to get outdoors even on cloudy days.

Dr Geige said: “Using light therapy lamps simulates sunlight exposure, which can help regulate serotonin and melatonin levels.

“Also regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep are vital for maintaining energy and mood.

“Stay connected and engage in social activities, even if they are indoors or virtual, to combat feelings of isolation.”

Mr Kalentzis also urged anyone experiencing persistent symptoms of SAD to contact their local GP.

He said: “If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask.

“Seeking support from friends, family, or mental health professionals is a sign of strength.

“Stay positive, be mindful of your needs, and prioritise your mental wellbeing regardless of the weather outside.”

Do you feel ‘down’ during the winter weather? How do you cheer yourself up? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Don’t let depression ruin your retirement

– With Camilla Foster

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