Short-term inclement weather can affect moods

Short-term inclement weather can affect moods

Stock image from Metro

October began on a somber note with several days of rain, cloudy weather and blustery winds. For many people, short-term inclement weather can lead to lethargy and depressed moods.

Dr. Veronique Deutsch-Anzalone, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine, is a clinical psychologist who has researched the weather’s effect on people. The doctor said the first thing many think of regarding lousy weather and mental health is seasonal affective disorder, more commonly known as SAD. Deutsch-Anzalone said SAD is not technically considered a disorder anymore in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” but now what patients are diagnosed with is depression with a seasonal pattern. She added seasonal pattern is considered a specifier.

“Why not just throw on some raincoats and galoshes, go out and just jump around in the puddles and make those mud pies with them. They’re going to remember that and enjoy it.”

Dr. Veronique Deutsch-Anzalone

“There are actually a lot of conflicting views on whether or not the lack of sun and the increase in cold and darkness causes us to have a depressed mood,” she said, adding that a 2016 study showed no objective data to support that depression is related to either latitude or season or sunlight. The doctor added that some people get depressed only in the summer.

However, due to many having depression that tends to follow a seasonal pattern, the disorder of depression with a seasonal pattern remains in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.”

She said similar symptoms that people feel in the winter could be experienced even during short-term weather patterns, such as the recent period of rain, as lack of sunlight has been a factor in psychiatric problems and depression, with females and the elderly being particularly susceptible.

There are a few reasons, the doctor said, that support cloudy, rainy days being accompanied by depressed moods which involves serotonin, a body chemical that has to do with body functions; and melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep.

“We have our circadian rhythms where we’re programmed to be alert when the sun is up and be drowsy when it’s gone, and that is because when the sun goes down our bodies produce melatonin,” she said.

On darker days, the body produces less serotonin. On sunnier days, more serotonin is made, and it’s a neurotransmitter, Deutsch-Anzalone said. She added, on a cloudy day, people tend to keep the lights low in their homes and cuddle up on the couch to watch TV, which increases sleepiness. In turn, she said, a person may crave carbohydrates, sugar and salt.

“Unfortunately, when we turn to that kind of food that actually kind of makes us go into more of a slump, and can also cause some people to feel guilty and not very happy with themselves,” the doctor said.

Comfort foods raise serotonin but only briefly, Deutsch-Anzalone said. The best approach is eating healthy and drinking water. The doctor also advised against excess alcohol and caffeine intake, which can cause inflammation and dehydration.

She added an increase in aches and pains during stormy weather also doesn’t help matters. The drop in atmospheric pressure causes body fluids to move from the blood vessels to the tissues, creating more pressure on nerves and joints.

“That can lead to more increased pain or stiffness or reduced mobility, which then of course, makes us a little bit less likely to want to move,” she said.

She said on gloomy days, it can help to turn the lights on inside to increase serotonin and have more energy. Deutsch-Anzalone added some people might need a light therapy lamp or doctors may prescribe vitamin D.

She said it also helps to engage in enjoyable activities to lift one’s spirits. When a person is feeling down and can’t even think of pleasant activities, she suggests googling to find a list of things to do. Some, the doctor added, might be ones a patient hasn’t thought of, such as picking up an instrument, writing poetry or decorating a room. Exercise is also recommended as well as socializing or calling a friend.

Even in the rain, she suggested embracing nature, especially for people who have young children.

“Why not just throw on some raincoats and galoshes, go out and just jump around in the puddles and make those mud pies with them,” she said. “They’re going to remember that and enjoy it.”

Getting a good night’s sleep is also imperative, she said, since human’s circadian rhythms are thrown off when it’s dark outside for long periods of time. Napping and lying around the house most of the day also throws off a person’s sleep schedule.

“If you’re able to keep that good sleep hygiene and get a good night’s sleep, that will continue to give you a good amount of energy throughout the day, and it’ll ward off any sort of irritability.”

Deutsch-Anzalone advises anyone who is struggling with their mental health to seek professional help.