Winter oh winter go away. No, seriously, go away. We're over it.
While a change in weather can be a really nice change of pace at times — or even greatly needed in some cases, such as rain during a drought — it can also be...frustrating.
When less-than-pleasant weather drags on (and on and on), it can complicate outdoor plans, make traffic miserable and, honestly, feel like it's starting to affect your overall mood.
And it's not just rain, of course. The bitter cold during the winter can take its toll, as can prolonged heat and humidity.
So what's the deal? Can weather actually affect your mood, or is it just a figment of your imagination?
Why does winter affect our mental health?
If your own personal mental health isn’t affected by the time of the year (or perhaps, you’ve just not noticed the link before), one question you may have is “can the weather really affect your mental health?”. The answer is 100% yes. Winter months bring cold, wet and dark days, and with that comes staying inside more, less social plans and therefore more alone time. Winter brings feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety heightened for many of us.
The link between weather and mood is murky
In terms of the science behind whether the weather might affect your mood, well...it's debatable. The research is limited, and it varies.
There's evidence to suggest a connection
The case for a link between the two began to emerge in the late '70s and early '80s.
- Amount of sunshine
- Barometric pressure
The study found that the amount of sunshine, temperature and humidity had the greatest effect on mood. In particular, it showed that high humidity lowered concentration and increased sleepiness — something many Houstonians can likely relate to.
Additionally, a 2005 study found that spending more time outdoors in pleasant weather is associated with higher mood and better memory. The study concluded that spring was linked to improved mood since people had been deprived of pleasant weather all winter, and that hotter weather was linked to lower mood in the summer.
But there's also evidence to suggest otherwise
While some of the science concludes that there is a link between weather and mood, not every study finds a clear connection.
For instance, a 2008 study found that weather had essentially no effect on positive mood. Explained another way, more sunlight and better temperatures didn't make a happy person happier. The study did find, however, that sunlight, wind and temperature could affect negative moods, like tiredness — although the impact was very minor.
Additionally, it's important to note that while the previously mentioned 2005 study did suggest a link between time spent outdoors in pleasant weather and improved mood, the impact wasn't consistently significant. In fact, the effect was very modest.
Taken together, it's unclear if weather truly affects mood
All in all, there's simply more we need to learn before we can claim a connection between mood and the weather.
Mood itself is very complex, and many, many factors affect and contribute to it.
What may be becoming more clear, however, is that how weather affects mood likely varies significantly from person to person.
Do we each have a weather type?
There's precedent for the theory that each of us is affected by the weather differently.
Take, for instance, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is defined as having significant mood changes related to the changing seasons. The most well-known example is winter SAD or the "winter blues" — a depressive mood felt only during the shorter days of the winter.
With only about 6% of the population diagnosed with SAD, it's a relatively rare mood disorder. However, the National Institute of Mental Health speculates that this disorder is actually much more common, especially its milder forms.
And a 2011 study suggests that weather may indeed affect mood — for some.
Similar to other studies, the overall association between weather and mood was barely, if at all, significant. However, the researchers noticed that while half of the individuals in the study weren't affected by the weather, the other half were significantly affected by it.
Taking these different subpopulations into account, the study identified four weather reactivity types:
- Those unaffected by weather – mood is unrelated to weather
- Summer lovers – mood improves on warm, sunny days
- Summer haters – mood improves on cool, cloudy days
- Rain haters – particularly bothered by rain
This suggests that some individuals are fairly resilient to the weather, while others are sensitive to it. Further still, those who are reactive to the weather can be affected by the various weather patterns differently.