These last few weeks of weather have been just amazing! It couldn’t feel less like winter. I think I may have caught spring fever a little too early. If you think about it, weather’s effect on how we feel is very interesting. I remember the brutal winter I lived in Oklahoma City. A blizzard hit leaving day after day after day of sunless, dreary, –9 degree days, and iced covered everything in its wake. This dreary scene finally took its toll on my native Floridian body. After a little research I discovered the clinical diagnosis for my symptoms: Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition where sufferers experience bouts of depression during certain times of the year.
For me a couple visits to the tanning bed for some bright light exposure was enough to help my body acclimate to grumpy old man winter. I did, however, get a healthy dose of the reality of climate acclimation. Experts agree 14 days is the most time typically necessary to completely acclimate to noticeable changes in weather. Most mood changes are associated with exposure to sunlight, or lack thereof. When our eyes detect darkness our pineal gland, residing within our brain, releases melatonin. Inversely, when light is detected, serotonin is released, our “happy” hormone (the origin of this word literally meaning serum + tonic). If inadequate bright light exposure is experienced, serotonin release becomes depressed, leading to the all too familiar “ran down” feeling. In addition to inadequate sun exposure there is another interesting addition to mood affecting weather conditions that one might not suspect, one especially relevant to Floridians. Humidity.
Research shows individuals exposed to higher levels of humidity report decreases in concentration and ability to think logically. Humidity was found to trigger sleepiness, and even decrease helpfulness! That’s right, high humidity has been found to cause a decrease in one’s helpfulness as much as 70%! When humidity is high, meaning more moisture in the air, our bodies have more difficulty cooling off due to the lack of evaporation of our perspiration. So we feel hotter and our body subsequently works harder to cool us, limiting blood flow to internal organs, muscles, and our brain.
Think humidity outside is bad? Humidity inside has been found to induce depression also! Individuals with damp, moldy homes tend to be less happy and more depressed. Researchers suspect such occurrences are rooted in a perceived lack of control, which is strongly linked to depression. Pay attention to whether your home feels clean and dry. If this isn’t the case, try purchasing a dehumidifier to dry the air; remembering healthy homes promote healthy people.
At least for now we don’t have to worry ourselves with being stuck inside. Take advantage of our beautiful County. Get outside, exercise, soak up some vitamin D, and enjoy some sunshine and serotonin induced happiness-you deserve it!
~Beth Harris, CSCS, CHFS