Hot sunny days. Cool cloudy days. Wet rainy days. Freezing blizzard days. We get plenty of variety in our weather in the RiverTown area, but do those different days have a psychological effect on our moods?

“Cloudy days and storms do have an effect on us, because some neurotransmitters that we produce in our brain are reactive to light.” said Jennifer Wickham, psychotherapist in the Mayo Clinic Health System Behavioral Health Department.

Wickham said serotonin brings us energy and reduces fatigue and depression. It is a neurotransmitter that is produced during daylight hours, so when a day is darker, the human brain produces less serotonin.

“Long periods of darkness can produce symptoms of depression due to the low levels of serotonin that are being produced in our brains,” Wickham said. “In addition, when it is dark out our brain produces more melatonin. This is a chemical that readies the body for sleep.”

During the shorter, darker days of winter, some people can experience sleepiness, fatigue, and depression. It can sometimes lead t

Jennifer Wickham, psychotherapist in the Behavioral Health Department, Mayo Clinic Health System, says our brains are reactive to light and temperature. Photo courtesy of Mayo Clinic Health System
Jennifer Wickham, psychotherapist in the Behavioral Health Department, Mayo Clinic Health System, says our brains are reactive to light and temperature. Photo courtesy of Mayo Clinic Health System
o a condition called seasonal affective disorder.

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“Not everyone is susceptible to difficulties caused by changes in weather or light,” Wickham explained. “Seasonal affective disorder is found to be about as common as other mental health disorders.”

In addition to the amount of light, many people react to the temperature and to temperature changes.

“Some studies have shown that there is a definite difference in human behavior depending on the temperature,” Wickham said. “For example, suicide rates are found to be higher when the summer heat is present. Rates of violence are also found to be higher in summer months when there are higher temperatures.”

Not everyone reacts the same way to changes in light, temperature, and seasons. Wickham said that people have different responses to outside stimuli and may react differently to changes in the weather. Some may have slight reactions and others may struggle to function in life.

The good news is that there are steps we can take to mitigate the effects of weather and light, according to Wickham.

“Engage in pleasurable activities,” she said. “Creating situations that energize our mind and create interest are also effective in reducing fatigue and apathy from depressive symptoms.”

Especially in the dark winter months, Wickham recommends getting outside to increase the amount of light we receive, and she adds that it helps to stay physically active.

“Exercise is known to prompt the brain to make endorphins which are like an antidote to stress hormones that build up during times when we are experiencing stress, like changes from the weather,” Wickham said. “Also, energy makes energy so when we get moving, we are likely to feel less fatigued.”