Can Weather Affect Your Mood? Doctors Explain

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Is it true that rain clouds trigger sadness?

Does a sunny day encourage a sunny disposition?

In other words, can weather affect your mood?

While it may sound hard to believe, it’s true that weather affects mood and behavior. As humans, we take our cues from the environment, and the weather can be a strong cue for your mood!

In this article, we’ll look at how your “weather personality” plays a role in weather affecting moods. We’ll also give you tips on how to avoid weather-induced depression.

Does weather really affect mood?

Yes, it’s not just your imagination!

Weather affects moods, productivity, and well-being. Extreme temperatures, changes in daylight, wind, rain, humidity, and cloud cover can influence how you feel emotionally and physically.

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Sunny, dry weather is linked to a positive mood and more energy. Many people associate clear, warm weather with feeling lighter and more focused. However, in sweltering heat, humidity, and wintery weather, depression can become more prevalent. This is known as seasonal depression.

The link between weather and mood is complicated. Depending on your “weather personality,” you may feel more at ease in cold and gloomy conditions.

Does each person have favorite weather?

Researchers believe each of us has a weather personality. Experiencing your favorite — or least favorite — type of weather can affect how you feel.

You may fall into one of these four main weather personality types:

Summer lovers: Your mood improves in hot, sunny, and clear weather.

Summer haters: Hot and humid weather ruins your mood, and you feel happier on cool, wintery days.

Rain haters: A rainy day causes anxiety, anger, and an overall gloomy mood. Many people feel stiff and achy when rain is predicted, which isn’t conducive to a good mood.

Unaffected: Weather changes have minimal impact on your mood and emotional state.

The psychological mechanisms of weather affecting moods

So, how does weather affect mood?

Weather affects mood in obvious and more subtle ways. It impacts you via four psychological and physiological mechanisms.

A young woman sitting on a couch experiencing weather-induced depression

Activity shifts

Extreme weather can make you less active by sapping your energy and motivation. Unfortunately, the less active you are, the worse you are likely to feel.

Inactivity is a big problem during winter. Short days, lack of natural light, rain, wind, and low temperatures can make it feel near impossible to get out of bed and head to the gym. You may be more inclined to stay on the couch and eat comfort food. Lack of movement and winter weight gain can mess with your mood and self-esteem.

Hormonal shifts

The change of season can cause your circadian rhythm to shift, impacting your hormones and mood.

In summer, longer days and more natural light increase happiness and motivation.

When your eyes take in bright sunlight, it supports the production of the “happy” hormone serotonin.

Unfortunately, winter weather can have the opposite effect. Waking up in the dark, spending all day indoors, and returning home in the dark after work or school is hard on your mental health. Fewer daylight hours make you feel more lethargic by triggering the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone released in response to darkness.

Stress levels

Certain weather conditions are more stress inducing than others.

When the weather is hot and humid, it can make you feel irritable and lethargic. Equally, storms, snow, and windy weather can disrupt your plans and increase social isolation. In some cases, harsh winter conditions can also make some people feel anxious.

These factors may trigger anxiety, stress, and depression.

Seasonal behavior

Seasonal changes influence your day-to-day behavior, which can, in turn, affect your mood.

People tend to spend more time isolated indoors during cold, wintery weather. It’s much easier to cancel plans than brave the cold conditions. But being cooped up indoors can make you feel irritable and moody.

Weather and depression: What’s the link?

The following weather conditions are associated with low mood and negative emotions:

  • Unstable weather
  • Rain
  • High humidity
  • Cloud cover
  • Cold temperatures
  • Extreme heat

The link between weather and depression is typically related to seasonal patterns. It’s known as seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD often occurs in the fall and winter months. It’s common in cold climates and higher latitude countries that experience limited daylight in winter.

The lack of natural light disrupts the circadian rhythm and impairs serotonin production, contributing to depression.

Plus, not getting time in the sun impacts the production of vitamin D, necessary for a balanced mood.

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Poor focus
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts

Interestingly, some people also experience SAD during summer. Hot climates and areas with long daylight hours during summer affect mood by disrupting your sleep schedule and routine.

How to prevent the weather from affecting your mood too much

At WeatherWell, we’ve come up with some top tips to help you regulate your mood and look on the sunny side, even if the weather is gray.

1. Track the weather

Our first tip is to monitor weather changes in your area using the WeatherWell app. This helps you to minimize the effect weather has on your mood.

If you feel sad and unmotivated on rainy days, arrange for a friend to come over and keep you company when the forecast predicts stormy conditions.

2. Regulate your indoor environment

You can create an ideal microclimate in your home to stay comfortable.

Use tools like bright light, air conditioning, air purifiers, indoor heating, and a humidifier to adjust the environment to your liking and optimize your mood. Interestingly, an indoor temperature of roughly 72 Fahrenheit encourages a balanced mood.

3. Try to get more light

Spending time outdoors for 30 minutes per day can regulate your body clock and boost your mood when you’re feeling blue. This is easy to do when the weather is good but is trickier on windy, rainy days. Luckily, your brain and body still get a boost from the sun when there is cloud cover.

An older couple walking outside to stop weather affecting their mood

Here’s how you can lift your mood with natural light:

  • Open the curtains at night, so your eyes register light in the morning.
  • Exercise outdoors in the morning if the weather permits.
  • Work and eat near a window to increase your exposure to natural light.
  • Bundle up and take frequent breaks outside when the weather clears up.

You can also use artificial light to your advantage in the form of light therapy. Using full-spectrum light bulbs indoors and investing in a sun lamp may help treat seasonal depression in winter. Turn on the lamp first thing in the morning for 15–30 minutes to trick your brain into thinking the sun has risen.

4. Try vitamin D supplements in winter

If you live in a cold climate that forces you indoors for most of the winter, you’re likely dealing with low levels of vitamin D. Researchers have linked this to seasonal depression.

The good news is you may be able to take vitamin D supplements to start feeling better today! Speak to your doctor about a vitamin D test and take a supplement if necessary.

5. Eat complex carbohydrates

If you feel a sense of doom when the weather is gray, you might reach for sugary snacks and comforting carbs to lift your mood.

Carbohydrates boost your blood sugar and stimulate the release of serotonin and endorphins. Unfortunately, eating processed carbs can cause your blood sugar to rise and crash quickly, worsening your mood. Instead, try eating complex carbohydrates that sustain your blood sugar levels. Examples include root vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruit.

Focusing on healthy, whole foods also provides your body with fiber and nutrients for overall mental and physical well-being.

6. Exercise regularly

Exercise is one of the most effective and affordable remedies for keeping bad moods at bay. Just half an hour of moderate exercise daily can turn your mood around.

If you struggle with SAD in the winter, exercising first thing in the morning may regulate your circadian rhythm by boosting the release of feel-good brain chemicals.

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Exercising outdoors — when the weather permits — is a great way to increase your natural light exposure. However, if the weather is hot and humid, stay safe by exercising in an air-conditioned gym. Or schedule exercise sessions in the early morning and late afternoon when the air cools down.

Final thoughts

The phenomenon of weather affecting moods is real. Understanding how weather affects mental and physical well-being can be empowering.

There is a lot you can do to prevent these mood swings. Regular exercise, natural light exposure, a healthy diet, and social connection support mental health and resilience in the face of unpredictable weather conditions.

Note: If you are struggling with severe seasonal depression, contact your health care provider. They can help you get the treatment you need to feel like yourself again.

October 5, 2022