Weather and its Affect on Mood

Bright and cheery that’s how you feel on a clear summers day. But when it’s pouring and cold you’re blue and gloomy, a mere coincidence?  Think again.

Instinctively we know that weather influences are more than a feeling because we talk about it more often than we probably realize: “The heat is killing me. I can’t stand the cold. This wind is driving me crazy.”

Weather makes us decide what to wear, where to go, when to go, the activities we do even the food we eat. Sunshine and warmth might draw us outdoors and into physical activities while clouds and cold make us want to curl up indoors with a good book. Weather determines if we eat ice cream or hot soup and whether we wear shorts or jackets and what to pack when traveling. Some evidence even states that the type of weather can actually influence the stock market! “There is a lot of evidence from psychology that sunlight affects people’s moods and also affects how people behave,” David Hirshlerifer said; the Kurtz chair in finance at the Fisher College of Business. He went on to say, “ If people are more optimistic when the sun shines, they may be more inclined to buy stocks on sunny days.” 

There is also a perceived link between illness and weather that dates back to 400BC. Yet till this day there is no universal agreement that supports that weather has an effect on medical conditions. Some medical conditions that have been reported as being sensitive to changes in weather include: rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lower back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and pain that is influenced by mood disorder. Some researches are not convinced of the link between weather and pain, and think that people tend to look for patterns where none exist.

Of course some people tend to react more strongly to weather than others. Instead of being just irritable on a hot and humid day, for example, these people are beside themselves with misery. This is called being weather-sensitive. Some symptoms of those who are “weather sensitive” include: lack of concentration, nausea, dizziness, headaches, migraine, sleep disorders, and increased irritability, anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Scientists are looking into this weather/mood phenomenon and their results verify what we have known all along. They are finding that certain weather conditions can bring us up or down and even make us more prone to aggressive behavior. Results also point out that humans respond to conditions in the weather with immediate responses, such as fear or amazement, with associations to their past history, such as a particular stress related events.

People perform at their best when their bodies are not under stress from their surroundings, and that includes the weather. Temperature, humidity, sunlight (or the lack of it), and barometric pressure seem to be the main influences.

Temperature and humidity

The body finds it hard to cope with extremes of temperature, either producing enough heat to keep warm in cold weather, or getting rid of our own internally produced heat when temperatures are high.

Mortality rates tend to rise when temperature soar. This is particularly linked in the elderly whose bodies find it hard to cope. In heat waves, where the temperature is significantly higher than expected for the time of year, people tend to behave more irrationally as they are feeling uncomfortable and most likely tense.

Hot humid days are the worst possible combination in terms of affecting our behavior and mood, causing periods of sleeplessness, poorer vigilance, decreased general activity, poorer reaction times and performance, irritability and lethargy.  Mr. Khaled Al Shi’aby; Head of the Meteorology Department in Kuwait, stated: “The high rise in temperature combined with humidity inflicts the feeling of un-comfort and heavy heartiness, especially during mid-day when its effects on peoples mood are most noted”.

On cooler days and with lower humidity it tends to increase alertness, general activity, and improve moods.

Lack of sun is more than just a depressing idea

Most people are seasonal to some degree that means they experience some form of lethargy and maybe even depression during the winter months when the days are shortest. Some experts believe this response is related to the fact that we get less sunlight during this season.

There is a small group of people in whom this response becomes so pronounced that it affects their day-to-day functioning. This is more commonly known as “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The hypothesis for SAD states that part of our brain that rules our body’s main functions (mood, activity, sleep, temperature, and appetite) which is stimulated by the natural light that passes through the retinas in our eyes, and when less light is available these functions slow down. Awareness of this mental condition has existed for more than 150 years, but it was only recognized as a disorder in the early 1980s. Many people with SAD may not be aware that it exists or that help is available.

Why rainy days make us blue or do they?

Our bodily response to lack of sun can also explain in part why some might feel cranky and sleepy when it is raining. If we experience a string of cloudy days, it will have a similar affect as that short winter days will.

Even one rainy day can make one feel out of sorts. That might have more to do with the way we are made to think about rain than the lack of sun. Rain in our culture is associated with not going outside and not having fun. You are always going to think a gloomy day is gloomy, because that is what you are trained to think.

In reality one can make use of rainy days if not going outdoors and turn it into something more enjoyable. What is better than sleeping late, reading a book, or just hanging out when it is pouring? But most of us do not think of that when we think of rain, because we haven’t been conditioned to respond that way.

Bearing up under pressure – barometric pressure, that is

Another reason you might feel tense or scattered before, during, or after rainstorms is the change in atmospheric pressure that accompanies them. Our body reacts to changes in air pressure just as a barometer does.

When two dissimilar air masses meet (high pressure and low pressure, or hot and cold), the front that results can cause weather changes, usually storms and fluctuate in air pressure. But a few days before the storm hits, the air pressure is already in faux, and it remains that way for a few days after the front has passed. Therefore, the effect of the oncoming or outgoing storm can be felt and affect our mood, even though it might be a gorgeous day outside. 

The theory behind air pressure affecting our bodies lies in the way our body tissue swells and shrinks as the barometer fluctuates, resulting in that tense, uncomfortable feeling. Other theories show that blood pressure of people living in storm belts areas; changes from day to day. The extent of the change is not harmful to healthy people, but it can account for mood swings.

There is not much one can do in changes in air pressure, but one can minimize the psychological effects. If you think that you or people around you react to pressure changes, exercise greater tolerance on those days when you know that you or they will be more irritable or restless.


How often do you hear people say that the wind is driving them crazy? A persistent or noisy wind can lead to an increase in tiredness, bad temper, or even a sudden decrease in mood.

Seasonal winds are knows as “ill winds” in many cultures, they are linked to feeling of anxiety, stress, depression and sleepless nights. When these winds blow, temperatures can increase by up to 15°C in as little as two hours.

The exact reason why these winds have such extreme effects on our mood is still unknown, but it has been suggested that it may be the electrical charge of the air. When people are exposed to negatively charged air they report feeling positive and vice versa. 

The weathered verdict

These are just some of the theories on how weather affects our mood; scientists are only beginning to validate what the rest of us take for granted, but so far they are just that – theories.

Indeed we are blessed in having air-conditioning in this part of the world, and heating when needed during winter, yet as we spend less and less time outside due to pressure at work and home our bodies are also going to be less exposed and less adapted to different weather conditions.

In the meantime if you feel that you are weather-sensitive, the only cure is to do what your mother has been telling you to do since you were a child: Get plenty of sunshine, wear your hat, don’t get over heated and come in out of the rain. Knew it all along, didn’t you?