Do you feel happier when the sun comes out and more miserable when it rains?
Most of us do and there’s good reason for this. The weather can have a strong effect on how we feel, both mentally and physically.
In this blog post, we’re looking at the impact that the weather can have on your wellbeing and why this happens.
Does Sunny Weather Really Make Us Feel Better?
Sunlight boosts the levels of serotonin in the brain. This is the body’s “happy hormone”, which is why we tend to feel better in good weather. It can also have the knock on effect of making you feel more inclined to get active and this can lead to “feel good” endorphins being released that also make you feel happier.
Your body produces less melatonin when it’s sunny. This is the hormone that regulates sleep so you’re more likely to feel more energetic in the summer months and more lethargic in the autumn and winter.
In the summer, you’re more likely to be woken by natural light, rather than your alarm clock and this can have an impact on how you feel about the day ahead.
Sunlight is one of our main sources of vitamin D, which is informally known as the “health and happiness” nutrient because of its benefits for health and wellbeing.
Using sun protection makes it more difficult for the body to absorb vitamin D so you’ll need to spend some time in the sun without sunscreen. This isn’t as dangerous as it might sound as we only need up to around 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight to get the vitamin D benefits. Any more than this makes you likely to get sunburnt.
Why Our Mood Can Plummet When It’s Not Sunny
There are quite a few reasons why we feel better when it is sunny so it makes sense that the opposite can be true as well.
Experts think it might be to do with there being less sunlight on a rainy day, which affects serotonin levels in the brain and confuses your body into feeling more sleepy and lethargic. It also “tricks” your body into producing more melatonin, a hormone that is strongly linked to sleep.
Another factor is also related to the lack of sunlight and us not getting enough vitamin D as a result of this.
Exposure to sunlight is one of the main ways that we get vitamin D but when the sun is less strong or sunscreen is being used, this can potentially lead to a deficiency.
A lack of vitamin D has been linked to a range of health conditions and is a trigger for depression too. Studies have shown a strong link between depression and vitamin D deficiency, and an improvement in depression symptoms while taking vitamin D supplements.
For some people, low levels of serotonin in the brain means that winter can actually trigger a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The symptoms tend to start in the autumn, when the days start to get shorter and the nights draw in. SAD usually gets better and disappear in the spring and summer and return again after this.
Why We Crave Comfort Foods When It’s Colder
When there is not much sun to speak of, low serotonin levels in your brain can lead to cravings for carbs. This is an artificial way for your body to try to boost its serotonin levels but it can leave you feeling worse in the long run.
Temperature can also affect your mood. In colder weather, more of our energy goes towards staying warm and there is less available for other things. This is one reason why we veer towards eating more to provide more energy but this can be counterproductive if it involves foods that take more energy to be digested.
Why We Feel Physically Worse in Bad Weather
Rainy days can actually cause physical discomfort too, while sunny days can provide some degree of pain relief for chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
A study from Manchester University involved more than 9000 people who are living with chronic pain, and found that their symptoms fluctuated depending on whether it was sunny or raining.
Over to you – how do you feel the weather affects your mental health and wellbeing? Do you also feel a physical effect when the seasons change?