Under (or over) the weather? How the temperature affects mood
Barometer is rising
Temperature's getting low
...hang on, that's when it's going to start raining men...
But the weather has an effect on our mood, so if you've been feeling a bit down because of the rain, or maybe you really dislike the sun...here are some reasons why (and tips to cope).
The effect of weather on mood
Research conducted in San Francisco where it reportedly rains 67% of the year suggests that mood changes when it rains. People are more likely to report feeling down, lonely, and even have a lower sense of self esteem.
There are practical reasons for this response which can then lead to our feelings of sadness:
We may not be able to do what we had planned in bad weather, or the extra effort to prepare for the activity may detract from the enjoyment. As such we then experience the loss of something we might have been looking forward to AND on top of that we might also miss out on seeing the people we were going to do the event with, and this can also result in feeling lonely.
Depending on the event, we may also have missed out on an opportunity. Perhaps we were aiming to achieve something such as a “Personal best” in an track run, or adverse weather might have curtailed the opportunity for a practised team to play, or an outdoor performance to go ahead. Rescheduling it may affect the performance, and it is easy to blame the weather for a poor outcome.
Quick tip - try reframing the situation:
What is interesting about this thought process is that we are almost mourning the loss of the fun we believe we would have had. There is of course no guarantee that the day would have gone as planned had the weather been good! This is an example of both the framing bias and our desire to avert loss. Our mood can be affected by how we choose to see the cancellation – eg as “Missing our chance to do X” versus, “The opportunity to look forward to something a little different”; and if we have a general tendency to take a pessimistic outlook, we are more likely to recognise what we might have lost rather than focus on what we have actually gained.
Extreme rain has also been associated with greater aggression – and again this can be because of the behaviour that ensues ie being “cooped up” inside for too long. The energy that we might have been building needs a release, and if it isn’t able to find a healthy form of expression, we might release it towards each other.
Seasonal Affective Disorder as the cold weather arrives is also common, often related to the greyer days and longer nights giving us less opportunity for natural light, and the cold making us more reluctant to go out. Here a “SAD” lamp which can mimic sunshine can be a sound investment.
OVERLY WARM WEATHER
While as the weather gets a little warmer and the sun comes out more often people report positive effects on mood (after all, sunlight naturally stimulates the production of vitamin D which also assists our immune system – and the sun as well as exercise in it can help produce endorphins (our body’s natural pain relievers) as well as serotonin (which helps regulates our sleep and appetite) along with dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter). Not only that but if you’re going out, you might be doing so with friends, and you’re likely to also be producing oxytocin – the bonding hormone giving you the feeling of the warm and fuzzies), but getting too warm (ie rising above the generally accepted “ideal” of 18-20 degrees Celsius), and it can stop being fun.
Stress research has long recognised that anxiety (one of our emotional responses to perception of threat) can produce changes in body temperature including an increase in body heat, and sweating as the body prepares to “fight” or flee. In this process vasoconstriction (the narrowing of one’s blood vessels) may occur which can cause the body to heat up very quickly. The sensation is unpleasant and can also result in feelings of stress in response to the body feeling overly warm in the summer months.
It is worth noting that not only can heat have a psychological effect, but it can have a physical one as well if you begin to suffer from heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is caused by prolonged exposure to the sun, often without enough hydration, and the body begins to overheat causing symptoms such as headache, confusion, clammy skin and feeling or being sick. Sometimes, it is possible to cool the body without medical intervention, for others this can mean a trip to the hospital, and that can definitely affect mood.
Researchers have also noticed that often in the summer violent crime has shown a rise, along with higher levels of irritation – such as drivers honking horns, and one piece of research from 2011 found that baseball players may even “throw more aggressively in summer” (hitting more batsmen). However, as with all research, results may be affected by other variables, for example, in the summer is it simply that more people are out and about and as such, delays and frustrations are more likely, which in turn can have negative effects on behaviour? (…and with baseball – could it be that sweaty hands make balls less controllable?...or perhaps something phrased a little more nicely than that 😉 )
So, why might warm weather have an adverse effect on mood?
It is recognised that people can get “hot and bothered” in overly warm weather (with research showing that humidity can be associated with lower mood and higher aggressive feelings), and people have presented to their doctors with a summer version of seasonal affective disorder – behaviour change due to warm weather it is not a “diagnosable” psychological condition, but it is worth recognising that the warm weather can have other effects on us, and those can also be responsible for the irritation some of us may experience.
Warm weather affects sleep:
Being overly warm can affect our sleep patterns. We may not be able to get to sleep so easily – and if opening the window is not possible (for example: perhaps because of hayfever, or owning a cat on a high floor), then it can be difficult to regulate your body temperature to sleep comfortably. A lack of sleep can be a contributory factor to feelings of stress and an inability to concentrate – which can affect our work; feelings of irritability can cause us to snap at colleagues or loved ones – which can affect our relationships; and if we feel “too warm to want to do anything”, the apathy and perhaps lack of social interaction can also lead us to feel a bit down.
Our Eating patterns may be disrupted
Our eating patterns can also be disturbed which again can lead to feelings of irritability, or perhaps we simply prefer not to eat, and if we are drinking alcoholic drinks, the alcohol may have a more pronounced effect on our behaviour than if we had a heavier meal. Similarly if it is “just too warm to exercise” – we may also begin to feel sluggish, and this too can affect our mood – and disrupt our routine.
The UK’s climate is changeable, so sometimes, in a heatwave it’s a case of “make do”
Further, if we contrast the climate of the UK to somewhere tropical for example, Malaysia where year round the climate averages about 28 degrees C to 32 degrees C, there air conditioning is commonplace, and in the middle of a UK heatwave we might question why don’t we have that too? Many businesses may not feel they can justify air conditioning in a building for the week of humidity – and in the same way as we may get frustrated that the UK appears not to be equipped to deal with the heat (which can cause disruption with transport as well as create unpleasantly warm work-places) – there is a simple objective reason for that – we currently do not face it regularly enough (yet) to merit a considerable expense to address it.
But I’m not cranky on holiday…?
We might notice that while we struggle with the heat day-to-day, when we go on holiday it is something we embrace. This is where we need to recognise that what we are doing in that heat has an effect. If our desire is to sit and read, or have a leisurely lunch outside, we are already approaching the heat with a different mindset as when we are working at our desks with the normal pressures of every-day life. Whether we want hot weather or not can have a huge effect. Further, while on holiday, we often have the option of changing what we want to do, and as such are not so restricted if it does get “a little too warm”.
WAYS TO MITIGATE WARM-WEATHER INDUCED MOODS
One thing which I would suggest right at the start is to try not expect to be in a bad mood. If you already associate the hot weather with being “hot and bothered” or simply “hating it” – it is likely that you will look for things to validate your view.
However, there are other practical tips to manage – with the key message being while you cannot control the weather, you can control how you behave within it:
- Carry a hand held fan
- Carry water to remain hydrated
- Make sure you wear appropriate sun protection (sunscreen, a hat etc) if you are going to be out in warm weather for some time.
- Try to keep your bedroom cooler by closing the curtains in the day – this may make it easier to sleep at night.
- Avoid going out when the sun will be at its hottest (eg around midday), or perhaps when crowds are likely to grow (such as rush hour) if you can. This might mean minor tweaks to your routine such as walking your dog, or going for a run at a different time, but if this is doable, then this can make a difference to not only the action itself, but your anticipation of it and how it will go.
- If you are having trouble sleeping, then get up and avoid associating the bed with anxiety or feeling uncomfortable. Consider if you will get better rest in a different room if this is an option.
- Wear clothing that is easily adjustable eg: something where layers can be added should it get cold rather than wearing something too warm where rolling up sleeves will make little difference.
- Recognise that mood can be affected by the heat, and try not to take things personally…and if heat does tend to make you cranky, perhaps acknowledge that in advance, or at least within conversation should the subject arise.
- Finally reframing and adapting can be one of the best ways to manage mood when it comes to weather. If you can’t do exactly what you planned, can you change it to something else and have just as much fun – if not more instead? And the previously planned event can be something to look forward to.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt