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Change in weather plays role in change in moods

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Photo by Taylor Soule

Have you ever wondered why rainy weather makes you feel depressed and lazy while a sunny summer day makes you feel energized and productive? How, in the winter, everything just slows down and people get depressed? What is the reason that weather and seasons affect one’s short-term and even long-term moods?

“Studying the relationship between weather and mood is tricky,” said Dr. Steven Lancaster, assistant psychology professor at Drake. “Average temperatures in winter are great, but above average temperatures at the state fair can be unbearable.”

“In general, people go outside more on nice days, and when they are outside, they may just be doing more pleasurable things, which can, of course, impact mood,” Lancaster said. “The strongest effects of the weather on mood occur on nice spring days when people actually take advantage of the weather by going outside and doing something fun.”

He said that when people go outside, they are receiving vitamin D3, which boosts the brain chemical serotonin. The fact that people are able to go outside and do fun activities is mainly what causes the positive moods we all associate with sunny days. But, in some cases, for people who are more vulnerable and sensitive to seasonal and weather changes, there is a more serious and longer lasting mood change. Some people have naturally low levels of certain brain chemicals. Some of these brain chemicals are increased with sunlight and control mood. If low, depression can easily occur. So, when the days start to get long and there is little sunlight, especially in Midwest winters, some fall victim to seasonal affective disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, there are three main reasons for SAD:

The brain chemical serotonin — low levels caused by little sunlight can trigger depression.

The hormone melatonin is disrupted in changing seasons, which can upset mood and sleep patterns.

A persons biological clock (circadian rhythm) can be changed by the limit of sunlight during fall and winter; this internal clock lets your body know when to sleep or be awake and disruption of it can cause depression.

If you are a female, have a family member with SAD, are African-American or live in poverty, you are more likely to have SAD. If the following sounds familiar, you may have the winter blues or actual SAD: being depressed only in the winter, feeling moody or grumpy, being sleepy all the time, eating a lot of carbs, gaining weight, and being unproductive (during the winter). Most college students feel that way a lot, so it can be hard to tell, don’t try to self diagnose.

There are several ways to resolve SAD. Many people have light boxes — even those who just feel down in the winter and don’t have SAD have light boxes. You sit in front of it for about 30 minutes a few times a day. It stimulates the brain where it has been lacking. There are also antidepressants for SAD. Counseling is also a strong treatment, and exercise has been shown to help increase mood as well.

Although the weather doesn’t cause different kinds of moods, we do associate certain moods with certain types of weather. You can be sure that there will be people outside playing Frisbee during the first remotely nice day after a long period of cold, dark, crappy days. The mood on campus is uplifted dramatically, and people feel more productive, friendlier and more optimistic.

“Students who visit an academically challenging campus on a cloudy day are more likely to enroll at that school,” Lancaster said. “The idea is that the cloudy weather probably makes working hard academically much more appealing than it would be on a sunny day. This then biases their later decision about which school to attend.”

That is probably why the end of the year is so hard for a lot of students; it is easier to be studious when it’s gray and cold outside.

Since most of the school year is cold and dreary, it is important to make sure we don’t let the weather make us feel down and unproductive. Exercise, a healthy diet, getting out of your room often, being with a lot of people and being involved in different things can all help with this. Now that it is spring, the problem becomes having a balance between studying and enjoying the weather. Studying outside can be a solution to that. Combine the two and stay outside.

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