Surprising ways the weather affects your well-being
If you're sitting in your office staring out the window at grey, cold, wet wintry weather - you're not alone! Here at Expertrain HQ, we're currently 'enjoying' some pretty grim London weather; honestly, it's so dark it's like the middle of the night! Which got us thinking, how can weather affect your well-being? Could it be responsible for headaches, make you feel agitated and nervous or leave you feeling worn out and exhausted? We wanted to find out.
If you've ever heard your grandad say his hip hurts, and that means rain is coming, don't just laugh. Weather-sensitive people can be susceptible to changes of mood and even physical changes caused by inclement weather. Scientists believe that natural electromagnetic impulses can affect our well-being. Whilst you could stay indoors to avoid rain or turn the heating on when it's cold outside, you can't avoid weather altogether, and climate change means that many parts of the world (the UK included) are getting more rain than ever before.
Changes in barometric pressure can cause joint ache, whilst other weather changes can affect symptoms of existing diseases. There's even a field of scientific study dedicated to the weather's impact on our bodies - biometeorology, which looks at how weather impacts animals, plants and humans.
What impact does the weather have?
We know that the weather can affect our blood pressure - a decrease in atmospheric pressure can cause blood pressure to drop. When the temperature is lower, your blood vessels get narrower, which generally means that most of us will have lower blood pressure during the summer months.
Weather can impact your emotional well-being too, and according to biometeorologist Grady Dixon, PhD, there's a season for self-harm. In the late spring and early summer, suicide rates are at their highest, whilst on cold, cloudy days, you're more likely to feel grumpy. So if you're feeling a bit moody at work today, you can blame the weather!
Allergies and asthma
Hot weather and the change of seasons can exacerbate allergy symptoms and asthma, as more pollen is in the air, ready to be inhaled. Don't hole up indoors though, just make sure you have plenty of allergy or asthma medication on hand in advance and check out local pollen counts before heading out.
Suffering from painful wrists, fingers, ankles, knees or hips? Sudden changes in barometric pressure could be to blame - we're most used to experiencing these changes just before a storm. Researchers have also discovered that cold weather could affect the viscosity (thickness) of joint fluid, which could lead to pain.
We don't know the reason why barometric pressure leads to headaches for some people. It could be evolutionary - a way of keeping us tuned into our environment - our it could affect brain pressure, leading to a dull ache or throbbing pain. Changes in season can also trigger migraines due to longer days, which means more exposure to bright light.
Blood sugar changes
Weather fronts mean low pressure, and during cold fronts, the thickness of our blood increases. If you are diabetic, you could find it's harder to control your blood sugar during cold fronts.
According to a study published in BMJ, every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit temperature drop leads to around 200 additional heart attacks nationwide. Challenging activities such as shovelling snow could contribute to the risk.
Colds and flu
If you're often the victim of a cold when the weather changes, you're not alone. Experts are still unclear on exactly why this happens, but it's thought that the rapid temperature changes could weaken the immune system.
Weather and mood
Research by Denissen et al. (2008) found that higher temperatures could boost the mood of someone who was suffering from mild depression, whilst a lack of sunlight could make them feel lower. We often hear about SAD (seasonal affected disorder), sometimes referred to as seasonal depression. Whilst it's most commonly experienced during the dark, cold days of autumn and winter, some people can be affected during the spring and summer months too.
If you've ever wondered why commuters are often more aggressive in hot weather or why the road seems to be filled with impatient, angry drivers when it's raining, this could explain why. Research by Hsiang et al. (2013) discovered a link between higher temperatures and human aggression. As the temperature rose, aggression and conflict in the group of research participants increased by 14%.
This is also true of days when it's raining. The more it rains, the more aggressive people seemed to get. Researcher Marie Connolly found a link between high temperatures and rain and decreasing life satisfaction levels amongst a group of women she interviewed.
Is weather really that important?
It seems that the effect the weather has on you could depend on your 'weather personality type'. Research carried out on a study of 415 Dutch teenagers in 2011 (1) revealed three main weather personality types, although it's worth noting that 48% of the study group were largely unaffected by the weather.
'Summer lovers' - On days where it rains, you'll feel unhappy and angry; or at least unhappier than on days filled with bright sunshine! Sunny, warm days are when you feel your best.
'Rain haters' - Rainy days leave you more likely to feel angry and unhappy. On days where it's warm and sunny, you'll feel happier - as long as it doesn't get too hot!
It's clear that for some people, weather can significantly impact mental and physical well-being; this doesn't apply to everyone. If you're one of the unlucky few who find yourself coming down with a cold everytime the weather changes or suffering from headaches before a storm, what can you do? Keep an eye on the weather forecast and rearrange your social life accordingly, if you can!
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