A link between the weather, our feelings and our behaviour seems obvious - but is it? And how do we deal with a difficult weather day?
After a week of gloomy, grey weather and constant ‘mizzle (a misty drizzle common to the highlands) we are luxuriating in sunshine in my home town today. The autumn colours pop against a bright blue sky and moods are lighter, neighbours are outdoors and there are smiles at the ready. I’m looking forward to my daily #wellbeingwalk and the feel of sun on my face this afternoon.
A link between the weather, our feelings and our behaviour seems obvious. Cold, miserable weather leaves us despondent and longing for the doona. Warmth is associated with fun and frivolity. Turn up the heat and humidity beyond comfortable and we’re irritable, longing for the AC or a cold drink and a pool.
Until recently it has been difficult to prove this link between the weather and our mood. Human behaviour is tricky to measure at the best of times. We’re very individual, with different physiology, psychology, personal circumstances and experiences from moment to moment. It’s not practical to lock 1,000 people in a laboratory and expose them to different temperature conditions - and that wouldn’t be reflective of real life now would it? So how do you quantify our response to something as global as weather with so many other variables to consider?
Social media to the rescue!
Between 2009 and 2016 a team of researchers from Stanford University analysed 3.5 billion tweets and Facebook posts, looking for themes between the weather conditions in the local area and people’s expressions of mood and sentiment. Their question? Is there a link between weather conditions and our mood?
What did they find?
“That there is substantial evidence that less ideal weather conditions relate to worsened sentiment.” In other words, we don’t like it when it gets too hot, too cold, too wet, too muggy, too cloudy or when bad weather sticks around for too long! It makes us cranky.
Weather is of course entirely out of our control yet it affects our thoughts, mood and actions. So how do we take control to ensure that the rain/heat/humidity/gloom doesn’t ruin our day?
Tell yourself a different story. When the weather is getting me down I think about who might be helped rather than hindered in the present conditions. Rain might dampen my day but it's a boon to farmers and gardeners. Heat may be hard work but the kids are happy because there's the pool after school. In psychology we call this 'reframing'. By framing something that's bringing us down but beyond our control in a way that takes the focus away from us and our bad mood, we gain perspective, our spirits rise and we can get on with our day regardless of meteorological conditions.
Get up, get out and move. I get it, there's nothing more tempting than a doona day when it's cold, wet and grey - and who wants to exercise when the humidity has you sweating on the lounge? But movement is the world's simplest, cheapest and easiest mood boost. Rug up and go for a swift walk or float for a while in the cool water of your local pool. You'll beat the weather and return to your tasks with a spring in your step.
Get stuff done. Got a long list of things to get done today? Don't let the weather put you off. Accomplishment is a pillar of well being. Human's are wired to achieve with our brain hitting us up with a dopamine fix every time we cross a task off the mental list. If you let the weather thwart your successes you're missing out on the mood boosts that might otherwise get you through a difficult day. If you need to, rearrange your day so that your achievements are less weather-dependent but persevere!
Indulge. On those really difficult days it's okay to say, 'Ugh, this is just too hard!' This doesn't mean ruminating on what's getting you down though. Pick up, move on and do something enjoyable that makes the best of what Mother Nature is laying down. A warm bath works on a cold day. Or snuggle under that blanket with some knitting, crochet or a good book. If it's heat you're grappling with it might be time for a cool drink under the fan with a favourite magazine. Or take yourself to a movie and enjoy the air con at someone else's expense.
Whatever you do to cope with weather, do it with intention an escape the hate.