by K.J. Howe
Weather is a powerful force in both real life and in fiction. Humans are very sensitive to temperature changes, weather shifts, and the elements. Ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis demonstrate that mother nature can leave us rather vulnerable.
In fiction, weather can be a valuable tool to create havoc for your characters. I've set scenes in the Sahara, where dehydration and sun stroke are setting in, and tensions are rising. Other backdrops include frozen mountaintops where the frigid temperatures can cause hypothermia. Weather affects our physical safety, but it can also profoundly affect our mood.
Fall means shorter days, longer nights, and cooler temperatures. When Daylight Savings Time hits, we tend to burrow in at night, stay at home more, enjoying movie nights, takeout, and family gatherings. Like those smart bears, we hibernate. But why? What do cold, dark days do to our internal chemistry? And why do we feel so energized in sunshine? And how about the sluggish feelings we have on rainy days?
There is a scientific reason behind each reaction to the weather, and by understanding these responses, we can better prepare ourselves for shifts in climate.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is a mood disorder that usually kicks in between October and April when daylight becomes scarce. Your body craves mid-day naps, your brains produces lower levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that affects mood, appetite, sleep, and sexual desire. If you're feeling down because of SAD, try setting your bedroom lights on a timer so they come on before you wake up, tricking your brain into thinking it is actually a sunrise. Or purchase a light therapy box that will give you year round sunshine.
When the snow falls, you tend to feel unmotivated to get up early, hit the gym, and tackle your day. Cold temperatures reduce your sensory feedback, dexterity, muscle strength, blood flow, and balance, which can impact your ability to perform complex physical tasks. To combat these doldrums, pile on layers of clothes, do 15 minutes of stretching first thing in the morning, so the added warmth and movement will stimulate blood flow and get you in a better frame of mind to work out. Bundle up, and get yourself moving. You won't regret it.
It's tough to imagine any downside to sunshine, as it always lifts your mood. That said, sunlight has been associated with higher spending patterns. Yes, that's right, better to shop on cloudy days unless you're in the mood to break the bank.
When torrents of rain fall, your serotonin levels dip and your carbohydrate cravings skyrocket. You tend to reach for pasta and other comfort foods, as carbs spike your serotonin levels. But the surge of happiness doesn't last, as the levels drop soon afterwards, leaving you feeling deflated. When you feel that carb craving come on, reach for vegetables like parsnips, potatoes or pumpkin instead of pasta. They offer the same benefits as spaghetti, but also offer vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Rain isn't easy on people. Not only does it cause sadness, it can also cause pain. When the pressure in the atmosphere decreases, clouds and rain become more likely. Bodily fluids move from blood vessels to tissues, causing pressure on nerves and joints, which leads to increased pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. For workouts on rain days, pilates or yoga might work better than running on your treadmill.
Feeling low? Go outside. Experts share that 30 minutes outside in pleasant weather can improve mood, memory, and creativity. Even in cold weather, taking a brisk walk can make you happier and more productive.
Knowing how we react psychologically to weather can really impact how we plan our days. And if we use this insider knowledge in our books, our characters' reactions to the changing climate might resonate with readers. Consider some of the best books you've read lately. Did the author use weather as setting, or even become a character itself? Weather profoundly affects us all, and that's why it's a great bonding topic when we first meet someone. Wishing you sunny days...except for when you're shopping!