In modern society, many people do not spend a lot of time outside. This reduces the potential influence of weather on their mental health. However, there’s no doubt that different people prefer different types of weather. And in turn, this can affect your mental health in the form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Despite its symptoms having being mentioned in scientific literature in 1845, SAD didn’t acquire a clinical name until the early 1980s.
Research shows that during the winter months – especially in areas such as Scandinavia – due to the long hours hour darkness, SAD is much more prevalent. And it’s not as easy as you might think to fight. SAD is believed to be connected to the body’s circadian rhythm – our waking and sleeping routine, which is almost entirely controlled by light and darkness. Prolonged periods of overcast skies can disrupt this, consequently affecting our mental health by tipping the delicate chemical balance in our brain.
The chemical balance refers to our melatonin – which is the chemical that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. This is also why we experience jet lag and may be more prone to melancholy feelings on long haul flights.
During darkness, our brain releases fewer endorphins and conversely, releases more when the sun is out. This is the most obvious scientific way the weather affects our mood, however, the natural world needs a balance of rain and sun to survive. Take farmers as an example. Their work is connected directly to the land and so a drought can have a serious effect on their mental health. And in this case, it is unlikely it would have anything to do with endorphin or melatonin levels.
For many Australians, the existential dread of what the future holds in the face of climate change is having documented impacts on their mental health. This is particularly noticeable in the youth and in young adults. Think of the recent speech by Greta Thunberg, addressing the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. From this, a new term has found its way into our common lingo – “eco-anxiety”. Meaning anxiety around the foreseeable deterioration of our planet.
Mums and dads are feeling this pressure too. A pressure to instil values such as caring for the environment, while worrying about the future of the planet they are leaving their children. The ramifications of eco-anxiety are widespread and growing.
The stock market
Even stock market investors feel the effects of cloudy days. Research shows that investors are more pessimistic on overcast days, leading to lower returns, while loan assessors are more likely to approve credit applications on sunny days. Equity analysts are less responsive to the release of earning news they are in a bad mood included by lack of sunshine.