As the seasons’ change, human moods also change. A correlation has been stricken between the weather and human emotions. While bright moods are associated with sunshine, gloomy or somber moods on the other hand are associated with cloudy or rainy days. Whether this is an attempt by the human system to adjust to changes in weather or a way of reacting to some form of deficiency is not clear. It has been observed that quite a number of people experience altered moods when a particular weather season peaks. In the northern parts of the globe, there are people whose depression increases during the months of winter. This condition has been referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to an article by George Grow in the VOA Science Report (2002), the victims of Seasonal Affective Disorder experience its effects during winter when days are often short and dark.
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The problem becomes extreme during the months when there are few daylight hours. Finally, when spring arrives, the symptoms disappear and the victims become well again. According to the article, women are more vulnerable to the condition than men even though it can affect anyone. Again, it is a condition mostly associated with young people. The report further says that almost twenty-five percent of the American population has some form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Five percent of this suffers from its extreme form. The condition can also be found in other parts of the world.
The disorder has been noted among scientists working in Antarctica. The workers often find it difficult to gather enough energy and motivation to perform their duties. The article also points that the idea that lack of light is linked to some ailment is not new. Since the beginning of medicine, scientists have tackled the issue. Hippocrates noted the correlation between human emotions and weather two thousand years ago. Scientists today have not yet fully comprehended Seasonal Affective Disorder even though they agree it is a real disorder.
According to some doctors, the development of Seasonal Affective Disorder is linked to alterations in the chemistry of the brain. These doctors have observed that individuals with this condition also record excessive levels of melatonin in their bodies. While an individual is asleep, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland which is located in the brain. This hormone is associated with symptoms of depression. When in the dark, an individual’s level of melatonin production increases. As such, when days are short and dark, its production increases.
George Grow says that the victims do not have to wait until spring to treat the disorder. Exposing the victims to bright light every day eases the condition. There are also other things that individuals can do to ease the condition. These things include increasing the amount of sunlight in the workplaces and homes. One can also spend much of his or her time outdoors during the day to be exposed to fresh air. A study found out that spending two and a half hours indoors under bright light is as effective as walking for an hour in the winter sunlight.
Drawing conclusions from studies conducted to examine how mood is affected by weather is difficult owing to the procedures that confound the disparity between people and the differences observed over time. However, doing a simple count of correlations suggest that less vigor and energy is recorded when the humidity is high. Individuals describe their moods as positive when there is much natural light than during cloudy or rainy seasons. However, these correlations are often based on a limited set of observations.
With this regard, there is not much doubt on the impact of weather on human moods. Long periods of cloudy, rainy weather have always seemed capable of bringing gloominess. Currently, the relationship between gloomy weather and gloomy moods has found a scientific basis. This is what has been referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder. As observed by Crow, this condition affects many people. In America alone, the condition affects thirty-five million individuals and is associated with minimized sunlight. Medical research has proven that hormones responsible for raising people’s moods are stimulated by sunlight.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is associated with a general tendency of finding difficulty coping with life, weight gain due to increased appetite, depression, fatigue, and irritability. These symptoms are observable at the onset of fall and extend into early spring. This condition is associated with hormonal changes that are related to changes in light intensity. When there is a reduction in the intensity of light, melatonin is released by the pineal gland. It has been discovered that its peak production occurs between two and three o’clock in the morning. The process is enhanced during winter. Human moods are adversely affected by an increase in the release of this hormone. Some individuals suffer from greater sensitivity to the increased production of the hormone than others.
There are various behavioral changes linked to weather besides Seasonal Affective Disorder. Hot dry weather is also associated with physiological and psychological changes. Hot, dry, downslope winds have been suspected to result in physiological and psychological reactions. As air moves downslope, the moisture content is uniform from top to bottom and this normally represents a low content. Rising motions on the upslope side set free moisture as clouds and precipitation. The temperature then rises as the air pushes downslope with reduced moisture. Humidity is lowered by this process even more. Increased irritability and reduced concentration which may result in unpleasant states are experienced by those people exposed to hot dry winds.
Ions in the atmosphere may be responsible for these mood swings. The ions play a major role in the electrification of clouds. Some studies have concluded that human behavior is influenced by these ions. In every cubic inch of the atmosphere, there are around twenty thousand positively charged ions and sixteen thousand negatively charged ions. Changes in the production of serotonin occur when positively charged ions are in excess. Serotonin is a chemical produced by the human body that can alter moods. When hot dry winds blow, the level of positively charged ions increase. However, there is no universal agreement on the relationship between ions and mood.
The majority of people concur that weather affects moods. A test of this theory however found no relationship even though two variables were noted; the season and time an individual spends outside (Myers, 2007). A set of studies was conducted throughout the United States involving six hundred participants. One of the studies was conducted during the spring in which the participants were exposed to sunlight during the warm and sunny days. Improved mood and memory were noticed among these participants than among those who were outside during unpleasant weather.
It is difficult to demonstrate how weather affects cognition and mood since many individuals in industrialized countries spend most of their time indoors. As such, they are not so much influenced by the changing weather outside. Some researchers have found a correlation between violent behavior and hot weather. An individual needs to be exposed to sunlight for at least thirty minutes for their moods to be improved. Cognitive ability and mood are decreased when an individual is indoors and the weather outside is pleasant according to findings by researchers. The researchers suspected that individuals tend to dislike staying indoors when the weather is better during spring since improved weather makes normal indoor activities irritating.
Various theories for winter depression have been suggested by researchers. Melatonin explanation seems to be more feasible even though the exact function of melatonin remains a mystery. A related theory holds that circadian rhythms are disrupted when there is no sufficient sunlight. The melatonin theory holds more ground owing to the positive impact of bright light on the secretion of hormones. The circadian rhythm theory seems to be attractive because positive results are registered when an individual is exposed to light for more than thirty minutes. This procedure of exposing oneself to the morning sun is thought to rearrange the circadian rhythm. The evidence for these theories is varied and mixed. There may be more important causal variations that are attached to seasonal changes as well as phototherapy.
A major problem associated with the validity of Seasonal Affective Disorder is that it may arise out of the research procedures employed in patient identification. For instance, media accounts of the disorder provide the base for recruiting research subjects. As such, Seasonal Affective Disorder may be a statistical artifact that depends on the mode of selecting the subjects. In other words, any season can be linked to recurrent depression if patients are selectively screened (Thayer, 1997).
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If Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real disorder, can it be said that its therapy is bright light? These are some of the questions which cannot be answered with certainty. The reality of winter depression is proven by indirect epidemiological evidence from individuals residing in the northern latitude and from observations that indicate that more people are depressed during the months of winter. Phototherapy has also proven to be effective in quite many studies. However, there still exist numerous unanswered questions concerning these phenomena which the scientists grapple with. Beyond the absence of sunlight, it is sensible to remark that extreme weather conditions affect human moods for various other reasons.
Extreme geophysical circumstances are likely to affect moods. Many reasons can be attributed to this most of which has to do with the indirect effects of geophysical factors on the processes of the body. For instance, the discomfort of rainy seasons that demands an adjustment in lifestyle is sufficient enough to affect moods. This may primarily be due to increased tension. Negative moods can also arise due to conditioning effects brought by past experiences with bad weather. As much as it may be claimed that dark weather results in dark moods, numerous factors determine the mood of individuals. Moods have much to do with pleasant or unpleasant occurrences within the scope of one’s life which to some extent may or may not be influenced by the weather conditions. Generally, individuals get frustrated when they had outdoor plans and the weather outside looks bad. This may influence an individual’s mood for thinking about being rained on may just spoil his or her day.
- Crow, G. (2002): seasonal affective disorder. Science Report.
- Myers, D.G. (2007). Psychology, 8th Edition. New York: Worth Publishers.
- Thayer, R. (1997). The Origin of Everyday Moods: Managing Energy, Tension and Stress. Oxford University Press