Why does the weather affect our moods?

Did you know that it was once calculated that the average Brit talks the equivalent of almost 2 days a year about our changeable weather conditions and forecasts?! So it’s no surprise the weather is frequently on our minds, impacting our choices, and can often mean making outdoor plans a tricky business. 


Aside from the unpredictability and general conversation starters, the weather is responsible for our fluctuating moods and health perhaps more than you realise...

Rainy days 

So it probably isn’t going to surprise you that grey rainy days can pull most people’s moods down, especially if it’s day after day. One theory is due to the increase in social isolation and inactivity that this causes, whilst cloud-filled skies obscure the sun meaning less daylight exposure and gaining less of the ‘feel-good’ hormone serotonin which we require to regulate our moods and lower stress. 

Yet research has shown that rainfall can improve our moods too. Have you ever noticed the smell immediately after rainfall, particularly after a dry spell? This unique earthy aroma is called petrichor - caused thanks to bacteria in the soil releasing the fragrance resulting from a chemical reaction between the water and organic compounds built up in the ground. This smell has been linked to fostering positive emotions and giving a sense of calm, possibly because there is an evolutionary link within us that our ancestors relied upon this scent for survival.  

As well as the relaxing and sometimes meditative effect listening to and watching the raindrops fall, the negative ions released into the atmosphere is also thought to have a benefit on balancing our hormone levels. 

Hello sunshine! 

Physical benefits of getting outside in the sun includes gaining a vital source of the ‘sunshine’ vitamin D that is key in strong bone health; a reduction in skin complaints (e.g. eczema) and auto-immune diseases (e.g. IBD) due to UV exposure; possible prevention to some cancers; rise in weight loss due to increased inclination for physical activities and increased metabolism; and an increase in serotonin production meaning a boost to our overall mood and focus. However there can be too much of a good thing, and being out in the sun should be moderated as too much exposure also comes with health risks. 

Interestingly, research has shown that when the weather is deemed good and we are already feeling positive, this will have almost no impact on further improving our mood. Whilst ‘symbolic associations’ thinking patterns are thought to be another reason why our moods are affected by the weather as the thoughts of sunshine and summery activities are mood-enhancing and optimistic compared to grey skies and letdowns of cancelled plans. 

For some, when daylight levels are continually low, such as during the darker winter months, this can lead to prolonged periods of feeling depressed, also known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Research has shown that a lack of vitamin D can significantly increase the chance of someone having depression, so the additional boost of light-box/therapy can be of great mental and physical support. 

Temperature and pressure changes 

And let’s not overlook the importance of the temperature and pressure on our moods too. Everybody is different and we will all have our preferred temperature, however, research has found that there is a commonality in our relationship with temperature and mood - either extreme (too hot, or too cold) is correlated to - you guessed it - negative moods, and if continually exposed will have potential health impacts too. So having an awareness of our ‘comfort zones’ is important.

Perhaps less obvious is the pressure changes in the atmosphere, which some people are more sensitive to than others - for example, some migraines can be triggered by excessive pressure changes or an increased sensitivity to pain has also been linked to a high atmospheric pressure. Headaches, fatigue and poor sleep have all been attributed to low barometric pressure (when it’s low cloud or stormy conditions).

No such thing as bad weather?

There’s a saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” (Alfred Wainwright). And this sentiment can be carried forward into not only how we prepare ourselves in clothing and equipment, but also in how we prepare our mindsets about the weather. Such as getting outdoors even on a cloudy day, finding new ways to experience and enjoy the wet or dry or hot or cold days, learning how to make ourselves comfortable during stormy nights and heatwaves, and acknowledging that however, it makes us feel the weather will change (and so too will our emotions). 

Being able to recognise our thoughts, feelings and reactions to the weather and seasons means that we can be in a better position to manage our overall health and wellbeing. And whilst everyone is individual, there is no denying that the changeable weather will continue to influence our moods.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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St. Austell PL26 & Bodmin PL30
Written by Ysella Wood, Member of BACP ~ Dip.Couns ~ Golowhe Therapy
St. Austell PL26 & Bodmin PL30

Ysella (also known as Izzey) is a counsellor and ecotherapist located in mid-Cornwall. She has a private practice called Golowhe Therapy working with individuals (young people, teens, adults) and groups, and offers the use of nature and the outdoors to support the therapeutic relationship, such as through ecotherapy and ‘walk and talk’ sessions.

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