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Rainy day blues: why does our mood change with the weather?

June usually marks the start of al fresco dining, pub garden and picnic season but umbrellas have been the accessory of choice for many people across the UK over the last few drizzly days.

The constantly changing weather we have experienced so far this summer has made layering essential and people’s moods often tend to mirror the grey, gloomy skies.

Many theories have been put forward about how the weather impacts our mood, energy and mental functioning.

Mental health experts have unpacked the biology behind the ‘rainy day blues’, offering helpful advice about how we can rediscover that summertime energy during the recurring showers that are dominating the weather.

How does the weather affect our mood?

Antonio Kalentzis, psychologist and The British Psychological Society committee member, explained that the weather significantly impacts our mood and mental health through several biological mechanisms such as serotonin production and our sleep/wake cycle.

Kalentzis said: “Sunshine boosts serotonin levels which improves our mood and promotes feelings of wellbeing.

“Conversely, cloudy or rainy days can lead to reduced serotonin production, causing feelings of sadness or lethargy.

“Additionally, exposure to natural light regulates our circadian rhythms, influences our sleep patterns and our overall mental health.”

Meanwhile, London-based psychologist Barbara Santini expressed the importance of vitamin D on our mood and brain functioning.

Santini said: “The role of vitamin D, synthesised in the skin through sunlight exposure, also cannot be understated.

“It supports brain health and function, and deficiencies can be linked to depressive symptoms.

“During rainy seasons when exposure to sunlight is minimised, vitamin D production can drop, which may exacerbate feelings of depression or fatigue.”

In addition, Dr Laura Geige, medical doctor and psychologist, said that the tumultuous, dark ragged clouds also impacts the hormone that regulates sleep, so can lead to fatigue.

She said: “On darker days, the body produces more melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.

“Elevated melatonin levels during the day can cause drowsiness and fatigue.”

What negative impact can this have on our everyday lives?

Santini explains that, from a psychological perspective, weather can influence people’s willingness to engage in activities that can impact their mental health.

For example, grey sombre skies often force people to stay confined indoors, meanwhile bright sunshine usually increases enthusiasm for outdoor activities, which have a positive impact on our energy and serotonin levels.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – defined by the NHS as a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern – is a notable condition which can be triggered by periods of bad weather.

According to Nuffield Health, symptoms of SAD include low mood, anxiety, stress and increased levels of fatigue.

In more serious cases, SAD can led to increased levels of aggression, insomnia, headaches, reduced appetite and brain fog.

Furthermore, Kalentzis said that rise in temperatures can also trigger mood episodes, especially in individuals with specific mental health conditions like bipolar disorder.

“Elevated temperatures can induce manic episodes due to physiological stress and sleep disturbances caused by heat.

“High temperatures can also lead to dehydration, increased irritability, and anxiety, exacerbating existing mental health issues,” explained Kalentzis.

What can we do to mitigate these negative impacts?

We may not be able to halt the upcoming downpours and summon bright blue skies, but mental health experts have put forward a range of lifestyle changes and hacks that we can easily implement into our daily lives to ward off the rainy day blues.

All of the experts we spoke to recommended regular physical exercise to boost energy levels and improve mood.

They were also unanimous on encouraging people to get out and about to get as much sun exposure as possible, even on cloudy days or to opt for light exposure therapy.

Geige said: “Using light therapy lamps simulates sunlight exposure, which can help regulate serotonin and melatonin levels.

“Also regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep are vital for maintaining energy and mood.

“Stay connected and engage in social activities, even if they are indoors or virtual, to combat feelings of isolation.”

Kalentzis also urged anyone experiencing persistent symptoms of SAD to contact their local GP.

He said: “If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask.

“Seeking support from friends, family, or mental health professionals is a sign of strength.

“Stay positive, be mindful of your needs, and prioritise your mental well-being regardless of the weather outside.”

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