Rainy with a Chance of Misery

Brisbane teased us with a sneak peak of blue sky this morning but was quickly covered by dark, grey clouds and a downpour of rain. It’s the time of year where we are meant to be outside, enjoying jacaranda season and switching from long-sleeved t-shirts to singlets after the long, cold, dark, 20-degree winter we suffer through… Instead we stare gloomily out of our windows and consider building an ark, ‘Noah-style’ because it doesn’t look like we will ever see that sunny Queensland blue.

Okay… that was a tad dramatic but there is some truth behind the rainy day gloom. The weather (while it provides for shocking small talk) actually does speak a vivid language for describing our emotional atmosphere. Just like the weather, our emotions seem to be weak forces of nature: unpredictable and unstable.

I truly do feel affected by the cold and wet weather. It might have been because i’ve grown up in Brissy where summer attire is completely acceptable in June, but I can’t stand the cold, it really tips me over the edge. I’ve always said I could never live in freezing Melbourne because i’d never get anything done. It might sound ridiculous, but there is some science to back up my sooking.

There have been many studies into how the weather affects human emotions. The weather holds a central place in the human experience, and if the studies are to be believed, the rain or sunshine continues to be an important factor of everyday mood and behaviour in life.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or appropriately referred to as ‘SAD’ has been used to describe mood disorders relating to the changing seasons. Most of us just have a case of the ‘winter blues’ but there are many people who genuinely suffer from SAD during the winter months. Some people even need to take active steps to keep their mood and motivation consistent throughout the year.

While SAD is a real, diagnosable form of depression, most of us can relate to feeling much more upbeat once spring has sprung. Studies have shown that it isn’t so much the cold and rain that changes one’s mood, but more the darkness that comes with it. The darkness, like in the wet and gloomy days we’ve been having, can alter the chemical balance in our brain. When it’s dark outside for a longer period of time our body produces less serotonin which is the chemical that helps regulate out mood. That’s why SAD is more common in places like the Scandinavian countries where they spend many months in total darkness.

For Queenslanders, a few days of rain is enough to make us order pizza, chocolate and take the day off to watch netflix in trackies…

It’s not just the dark and wet that changes our behaviour. Our emotions and actions have been shown to be heavily influenced by the temperature.

Warm and sunny days make us more romantic and helpful; the sunshine makes us spend more money; high, humid temperatures make us more irritable; the lack of sunlight makes us eat more; and cold temperatures make us lethargic.

Look at us, silly humans who let the weather affect how we act on certain days. When you think about it though, it does change our day to day activities more than we might think. So what happens when the temperature keeps rising?

With climate change continuing to be a very large issue, the rising temperatures will see us experience even more extreme weather events in the years to come. There are not just the physical dangers of extreme weather anymore, but psychological concerns.  

Studies have shown that the global warming can disrupt sleep patterns, worsen moods and increase the risk of depression and suicide. While the reduced extreme of cold weather events in some places might have a positive effect on those people, climate change will predominantly have a negative effect (especially for people who struggle to adapt)

The result of higher temperatures and exposure to extreme weather will cause psychological distress and anxiety about the future. The link between extreme anxiety reactions (e.g. PTSD) and acute weather disasters such as floods, fires, heat waves and cyclones are well established. However, what happens when those disasters become even more frequent and common and what are the long-term effects? Climate change may affect mental health directly by exposing people to the psychological trauma associated with the intensity of climate-related disasters and the fact that it was man-made. These feelings can easily become debilitating and contribute to a decline of global mental health.  

While we are not quite in panic mode just yet (although apparently by 2030 we will be), we are still very sensitive to the normal weather patterns we experience throughout the year. It’s ultimately a bad idea to use it as an excuse to neglect your ‘to-do-list’ or lay in bed when you should be catching up with that lecture you missed. It’s still important to continue on with life and reap the psychological benefits of pushing through and making the most of the sunshine.

It does seem like we are ridiculously overreacting when it rains for 5 days straight and think we will never see the light again, but it’s actually amazing how much the weather affects us. If climate change continues as expected there may be serious mental-health concerns that need to be addressed before it becomes an unsustainable problem.

In the meantime, summer is coming and will bring warmer and brighter days so it’s time to slip, slop, slap! 


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