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September 2, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Does Weather Really Affect Your Mood?

Well it definitely affects mine! I’ll be honest, when it’s cloudy or rainy outside I feel like I have no energy and all I want to do is watch TV or nap. The complete opposite is true when it’s sunny outside; I just want to go…go…go. When the weather is nice I feel like I have more energy and motivation to get out and about. Could weather really affect your mood? I say yes, but this question has also been studied by scientists and sociologists.

Although an occasional day here and there where you feel like you have no energy is completely normal, there is a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that occurs most frequently in the winter months. People who have SAD tend to have normal mental health throughout most of the year but experience depressive symptoms in the winter or, less frequently, in the summer, spring or autumn. This occurs year after year. It’s estimated that 1.5 to 9% of adults in the U.S. experience SAD.

Do you ever feel like you get the winter blues? Some of the symptoms of SAD may consist of morning sickness, difficulty waking up or oversleeping, overeating, craving carbohydrates (often contributing to weight gain), lacking energy, difficulty concentrating and withdrawal from friends, family and social activities. Some people may also experience SAD during the spring and summer, but it’s less common. Some of the symptoms of spring/summer SAD include insomnia, irritability, anxiety, decreased appetite, weight loss and social withdrawal.

What exactly causes SAD? That still remains unknown but it’s likely that genetics, age and your body’s natural chemical makeup play a vital role. This includes your body’s daily biological clock (circadian rhythm). During the fall and winter, sunlight is reduced (days are shorter and the sun is lower in the sky) and this may disrupt your body’s internal clock and may lead to feelings of depression. Also the change in the seasons can disrupt the balance of melatonin levels in your body (which plays a role in your sleep patterns and mood). The reduced sunlight during these months can cause your serotonin levels to drop and can lead to depression.

The Circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle in the biochemical, physiological and behavioral process of living entities. Image: Wikipedia

Seasonal mood variations are believed to be related to light (or lack thereof) since people don’t tend to spend as much time outdoors in the winter months and the days are shorter; this makes complete sense to me. One of the treatments for SAD is light therapy in which you’re exposed to a bright light for a period of time. This type of therapy appears to cause a change in the brain chemicals linked to mood. Medications, such as antidepressants, may also be prescribed if symptoms are severe. Psychotherapy is another option to treat SAD–it helps you identify and change the negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse.

Light therapy is a common treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Photo: Wikipedia

Studies show that women are more likely to be affected by SAD than men (3 out of 4 sufferers are women). In Alaska there’s a SAD rate of 8.9% and in the Netherlands an estimated 10% of people suffer from it. SAD is noticeably present at latitudes in the Arctic but is extremely rare within 30 degrees latitude of the equator. Fall is just a few weeks away for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere and some of the symptoms associated with SAD start in the fall and continue through the winter months.

Seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. Image: The Atmosphere

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