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Home Health Yes, Weather Can Affect Mood and Energy — and So Can Climate Change

Yes, Weather Can Affect Mood and Energy — and So Can Climate Change

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“Rainy day blues.” “Sunny disposition.” “A face like thunder.” “Under the weather.”

The English language is full of nods to the many ways weather can affect mood, energy, and even mental functioning.

Of course, your relationship to the environment likely isn’t so simple as “cold = bad” or “warm = good.”

If you live in a desert climate, a chilly, breezy day could offer a nice change of pace. Likewise, the hot, humid days of summer could feel downright miserable if you bike or walk to work.

Personal preference also has much to do with how the weather affects you. According to older research from 2011 that involved 497 adolescents and their mothers, people tend to fall into one of four categories:

  • Summer lovers: Your mood improves in warm and sunny weather.
  • Summer haters: Your mood declines in warm and sunny weather.
  • Rain haters: Your mood declines on rainy days.
  • Unaffected: Weather doesn’t affect your mood much.

Individual differences aside, weather and climate do affect people in a few main ways.

Read on to learn how weather can affect your emotions, who might be most sensitive to weather changes, and how climate change can impact mental health.

Weather can influence your mental health in many ways:

Mood

The following weather conditions are associated with low and high mood for most people:

Energy

Typically, cold weather gives your body the signal to settle down and “hibernate,” resulting in less energy during the winter months. Warmer temperatures can boost your energy along with your mood, but only up to the 70°F (21°C) threshold. After that, you may grow tired and feel the urge to escape the heat.

Sunlight also impacts energy: Light tells your circadian clock to stay awake, and darkness tells your brain it’s time to rest. In other words, long, bright days can energize you. But on short or cloudy days, there’s less light to encourage you to stay awake, so you may feel groggier than usual.

Stress

If you’ve ever gotten a tingly, uneasy feeling before a storm, that was likely your body sensing a drop in atmospheric pressure. A 2019 animal study suggests drops in atmospheric pressure can activate the superior vestibular nucleus (SVN), a part of your brain that controls balance and perception. This study involved mice, but humans also have an SVN.

The study authors suggest SVN may rile up your body’s stress system before a storm, making you feel on edge. Circulating stress hormones can also sensitize your nerve endings, which could be why some people get chronic pain flare-ups when the air pressure is low.

High temperatures can also increase stress levels. Older research suggests people tend to be more irritable, or even aggressive, during hotter months. Research from 2018 links higher temperatures to increased agitation and anxiety.

Ability to think clearly and make informed decisions

Warm, sunny weather may affect brainpower by:

Warm weather also tends to make people more tolerant of financial risk. If you find yourself making more impulsive investments or purchases during hotter months, the weather may be one of the reasons why.

It’s worth mentioning these effects only occur if you actually go outside. Simply looking out of the window on a sunny day probably won’t have much impact.

Suicide risk

Evidence suggests people are more likely to attempt suicide in the spring and early summer than any other season. Researchers don’t know exactly why this pattern occurs, although they have a few theories:

  • More sunlight exposure and solar radiation may prompt a shift in neurotransmitter levels.
  • Rapidly rising temperatures could trigger a mood episode, particularly for people with bipolar disorder.
  • High pollen counts may prompt inflammation in the brain and worsen mental health symptoms.

While weather changes alone likely won’t prompt someone to attempt suicide, it could serve as an additional trigger for someone already at risk.

For plenty of people, weather has only a trivial effect on mental and physical health. However, for the 30% of people who live with meteoropathy, shifts in weather can cause symptoms like:

These symptoms disappear when the weather improves.

Meteoropathy most commonly affects:

Meteoropathy isn’t a diagnosis in itself, but it can worsen mood symptoms.

Weather also has an acknowledged role in the following conditions:

Seasonal depression

Major depressive disorder (MDD) with a seasonal pattern, which you might know as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), refers to depression symptoms that appear only during certain times of the year.

Most people with this type of depression experience symptoms like sadness, sleepiness, and increased appetite during the fall and winter months, but no symptoms in the spring and summer.

But some people with seasonal depression have symptoms that follow the opposite pattern: The warm, sunny weather of spring and summer triggers depression symptoms, and the colder winter months bring relief. Spring or summer depression symptoms may involve agitation, insomnia, and poor appetite, along with a low mood.

Major depression

Major depression can occur at any time of year. That said, symptoms may show up more frequently during chillier weather.

According to an Eastern European study of nearly 7000 participants, you’re more likely to have depression symptoms:

  • during November or December
  • when the temperature falls below 32°F (0°C)
  • when the wind speed is higher than on previous days
  • if it snowed within the last 2 days

Bipolar disorder

Roughly 1 in 4 people with bipolar disorder report a seasonal pattern in their mood symptoms. Temperature seems to serve as the key link between seasonality and bipolar symptoms.

While study results vary, there’s some general consensus: Episodes of depression occur more frequently in winter, and episodes of mania occur more frequently in spring and summer.

Research from 2020 also suggests that among people with bipolar disorder, those with a history of suicide attempts tend to have greater sensitivity to weather and more severe meteoropathy symptoms. Participants with a greater number of suicide attempts had higher scores on meteoropathy screening tests.

Extreme weather impacts almost everyone, not just people prone to meteoropathy. According to a 2016 study, temperatures above 70°F (21°C) can:

The study found that individuals in both mild climates and harsh climates had much the same reactions to heat exposure. To put it another way, as climate change increases the number of hot days each year across the United States, moving to a cooler state probably won’t protect you.

Research from 2017 has also linked the rising temperatures of climate change to increasing levels of violence around the globe. As temperatures get hotter, stress, impulsivity, and aggression rise. Droughts and crop shortages can also cause more competition for resources.

Increased stress, aggression, and impulsivity may then play a part in more frequent collective violence, like riots and civil wars. But they can also factor into interpersonal violence, which could include assault, homicide, or sexual assault.

One theory suggests temperature changes that affect everyday activities can heighten tension and contribute to interpersonal conflict, which can affect interactions with strangers, partners, and loved ones.

Extreme weather events

Climate change doesn’t only affect temperatures. It has also increased the rate of extreme weather events (EWEs), such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. These events can disrupt your life significantly and may cause mental health symptoms.

According to a 2020 review including 17 studies where participants had experienced an EWE in the past 12 months,

Children’s mental health is particularly vulnerable after EWEs. Up to 71% of child survivors of natural disasters develop post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Even people not directly exposed to EWEs may feel anxious hearing about them. For some people, the existential threat of climate change can cause a sense of dread and hopelessness called eco-anxiety. As climate change has accelerated, eco-anxiety has become more common, especially among younger generations who will have to deal with the long-term effects.

You can’t change the weather, but you can take steps to ease its effects on your well-being.

If you suspect you might be sensitive to weather changes, consider these tips:

  • Keep a mood journal so you can track how different weather patterns affect you.
  • Monitor the weather forecast so you can prepare low-stress schedules for difficult days.
  • Stay inside during harsh weather. If your home doesn’t have heating or air conditioning, you may want to visit your nearest emergency warming or cooling center.

Meteoropathy typically lasts for a few days at most and will disappear once the weather improves. These symptoms can feel annoying or uncomfortable, but they generally won’t completely derail your everyday routine.

That said, it never hurts to check in with a healthcare professional if the weather seems to have an ongoing impact on your mood. They can help rule out any underlying conditions and offer more guidance on treatment options.

If any mental health symptoms you experience do last more than a day or so, or keep you from doing the things you usually would, you may want to connect with a professional for more support.

Here’s how to find the right therapist.

If weather changes seem to trigger mental health symptoms for you, potential treatment options might include:

Your care team can offer more guidance in finding the right treatment for your needs.

FYI

Certain medications can make you more sensitive to weather changes.

For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a common type of antidepressant, can raise your risk of dehydration and heat stroke. People who take SSRIs are 17% more likely to get hospitalized for heat-related illness than the general population.

If you have concerns about any potential side effects of your medication, the clinician who prescribed it can answer your questions and offer guidance on alternate treatment options.

While the weather has only a subtle impact on mood, energy, and cognition for many people, nearly a third of the population is highly sensitive to atmospheric changes.

What’s more, climate change has increased the frequency of extreme weather events, leaving more people vulnerable to PTSD, depression, and anxiety related to natural disasters.

Working with a therapist to address your symptoms can have benefits on a personal level — but large-scale efforts to combat climate change may do more to help prevent weather-related traumas from happening in the first place.


Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.



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