By Guest Contributor Jim N R Dale
I want you to do something for me. Well, it’s for you, really.
When you wake up in the morning, and just before you draw back the curtains, give yourself a score out of ten for how you’re feeling, whatever you may be experiencing at the time. Once you’ve done that, let in the light (or dark) of the day, and within ten seconds score yourself again. Do that over several days, noting any differences. My guess is that your feelings of positivity, neutrality or negativity will be skewed by the prevailing weather you observe out of your window.
When I say weather, and so long as your view takes in more than merely the neighbouring brick wall, your instant reaction will be tuned in to the colour of the sky.
The science behind it
It’s not by chance that sky blue, yellow and green are considered by behavioural scientists to be the ultimate in pleasing and calming colours. Allow me to explain why.
We have to step back a couple of chapters, to prehistoric times, to appreciate that these three colours meant life and opportunity at its most basic. Blue meant a clear sky with no hazards, yellow the splendour of life-giving sun- shine, and green the burgeoning growth of healthy vegetation. Those feel-good colours were key (particularly after long hard winters) and have been passed on through the ages – the natural feel-good reaction imprinted within all of our genes. Yes, we all have the weather in our bones to one degree or another!
Ok, I know what you might be thinking: there are plenty of alternative weather conditions and associated colours that can make or change our emotional state. We do, of course, need skies of grey or near-black to bring helpful rains, and the first snows of winter carpeting the ground in crystal white tend to bring a feeling of childish joy to most. Meanwhile, the seven colours of a rainbow or a red and orange sunrise or sunset can be magical, while brilliant white lightning evokes fascination and a sense of majesty.
Nevertheless, for humans to function at our best, we require calmness and a mental feeling of inner control. And that’s largely provided by those three essential, comforting pigments – blue, yellow and green.
The impact of weather on your everyday life
Weather is the fundamental provider and taker of life – quite literally, a breath of fresh air or an ill wind. Weather will have an impact, whether it’s invisible to you or quite apparent, on your everyday life, either directly or indirectly, and here’s how.
Let’s do the life-giving festival first. We only have to look at flora and fauna in all their forms to appreciate that the right mix of weather is the catalyst for procreation, and subsequently the survival and extension of the species. I guess there are a few exceptions out there at the back of a deep, dark cave, or at the bottom of a dark, super- pressurized ocean. But in the vast majority of cases, sexual and asexual activity is a finely tuned event, inextricably linked to certain atmospheric and oceanographic conditions such as air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, rainfall, snowfall and the daddy of them all, sunshine.
The seasons are brought about by the tilt of the Earth’s axis in relation to the sun, and they’re the main drivers of plant, insect and animal reproduction, which go into overdrive during the spring and summer months of both hemispheres. Sexual activity will rise and fall broadly in line with the movement of the overhead sun; it’s almost as if a big party light has been switched on and everything and everyone joins the soiree, seeking out a mate before the big boss with the overcoat and wooly scarf switches off the mood music.
You see, we’re back to feelings, moods and mental states – all chemically-driven, often weather-influenced, and part of everyday life for every living thing. Stress caused by the ‘wrong’ weather, and a subsequent chemical imbalance, are the enemies of normal, cyclical reproduction, but 99% of life reacts to the appropriate party conditions, and that to some degree includes human life.
Weather and procreation
So, do we humans procreate more in the spring months of March, April and May, as the sun creeps ever higher in the sky? Hardly! Given that July, August and September are the peak birth months, it appears the sun-shy months of October, November and December are the choice times to dance the fandango. That could be for two reasons.
The first is that babies born in the warmer summer months historically stood a better chance of survival in their first few weeks, when mortality rates were at their highest. So, it was, and maybe still is (for differing global reasons) a planned-survival thing. The second factor is that in temperate, continental and polar climates, the dark and cold tend to mean longer times spent in the warmth and comfort of our beds … and that simply means opportunity knocking. There is a third reason, which is arguably not weather related, which is the occurrence of certain festivities, including Christmas, New Year, Diwali, Hanukkah and other such celebrations, during this period.
By the way, sunlight sets off chemical reactions that naturally raise our libidos, but when it comes with excessive heat or excessive cold, forget it – our bodies are not into overheated, or frigid, workouts!
Weather and illness
Illness and death are also a big part of the equation of life. Throughout history, and to this day, diseases that are directly or indirectly weather-related have been the cause of far more illness and death than all the wars put together. The list is lengthy and horribly impressive: influenza, cholera, typhoid, pneumonia, tuberculosis, dysentery, the plague, malaria and dengue fever all have a weather association of one kind or another. In fact, a change in the weather can help bring an end to certain catastrophic epidemics. As I pen this chapter, the coronavirus pandemic is in full swing around the globe; you will now know whether the dawn of spring and summer in the northern hemisphere has helped to reduce the impact (or not).
Meanwhile, the top present-day killer, which accounts for almost one third of all human deaths, is cardiovascular disease, followed by cancer and then respiratory diseases. Where’s the weather impact in those? Well, I’m not pretending that weather-related deaths have greatly reduced as a percentage of all deaths over the past couple of centuries, but all three of the above afflictions have a significant weather association. For example, extreme heat and extreme cold do lead to a spike in heart attacks; overexposure to the sun has led to a tenfold increase in skin cancers over the past few decades; respiratory diseases caused by heat, lacklustre winds and increased pollution, are a ghastly, resurgent threat.
I could go on and on, without even mentioning the hundreds of more minor weather-associated ailments that each of us endures within our lifetimes. But, I want to end this chapter with a couple of thoughts that encapsulate the relationship between weather impact and our wellbeing.
The impact of weather on your wellbeing
The first concerns mental health, and specifically suicide. Suicide accounts for a staggering 1.5% of all deaths annually, with some 75% of that total made up of males. It’s not by chance that the world’s highest suicide rates occur in countries of extreme heat or extreme cold, like Sri Lanka and Lithuania. I’m not suggesting that higher suicide levels are tied purely to weather extremes, but unrelenting heat and humidity, or depressingly cold and dark weather, surely can’t help in times of acute desperation. Just think about how you might feel under endless days of insufferable weather. Although there will be other social, economic, political and hereditary reasons for suicidal tendencies, stressful weather may well be a pivotal part of the equation.
Let’s go back to where I started in this chapter: clear blue skies, a brilliant golden-yellow sun and the glory of green growth, all amping up the feel-good factor. Well, gloomy, cold, sunless caves have precisely the opposite effect, and can only add to levels of depression, as can day after day of heat and high humidity. It’s therefore apt to mention the condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where long, dark hours and periods of debilitating weather has a huge negative mental and physical impact upon many thousands of sufferers, with countless others impacted to a lesser degree.
I’m far from being a psychiatrist, and won’t pretend that fine, temperate weather is the key to a positive state of mind. Yet, I’m convinced that exposure to those comforting colours – and production of the ‘happiness’ chemical serotonin, which sunshine naturally stimulates – can help create a more positive mindset. And I’m convinced that this applies not only in the most needy of cases, but for every one of us when, from time to time, we inevitably feel the world pressing down on us.
Meanwhile, natural disasters – including extreme heat and cold, wildfires, hurricanes and typhoons, tornadoes, floods, droughts and wind-driven tidal surges – account for around 1% of deaths worldwide each year. On the face of it, and particularly when such events feature regularly in the media, the figure appears pretty low when com- pared to deaths caused by all forms of cancer, which clock in at 17%. However, with the rapid acceleration of global warming in recent times, I can only see this percentage rising … and rising faster than any of us would like.
Simply put, more heat in the atmosphere = more energy = greater instances of extreme weather events. I’ll explain more in the final chapter, but take it from me: the survival and the wellbeing of every species is largely dependent upon the vagaries of the weather, and now, more than ever, our rapidly changing climate.
If you work in the health and wellbeing sectors, you could do far worse than to monitor, measure, appreciate and then act upon the huge and significant part weather and climate can play in our lives. There will be a weather association to many, if not most, things that go on in your local surgery or hospital. Weather and changing climate are pivotal players, and I believe we are only scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the anticipation and planning of health-related impacts and preventative measures.
For everyone else, the next time you start feeling ‘under the weather,’ it may well be that you’re literally under the weather. When you are not quite yourself, in whatever way, monitor and take note of both your mental and physical health in relation to the atmospheric conditions at the time. (You know those pains in your joints on a humid day?) I can’t promise that you’ll be able to swerve and stave off all future weather-related maladies, but you may gain some knowledge about their origins.
As they say, knowledge is power, and nothing is more powerful than your own health!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim N R Dale is the founder and consultant meteorologist at the British Weather Services – the UK’s leading independent weather operate. Jim is British and resides in the UK.
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LEARN MORE ABOUT WEATHER OR NOT
The impact of the weather is often taken for granted and sometimes completely ignored. Weather in all forms is a maker and breaker of both business and personal fortunes, especially when it reaches extremes. The weather we experience crucially dictates almost every aspect of our lives. It directs what we do and when we do it, from what we eat and drink, to the clothes we wear, and it even governs our health and behaviour.
In this entertaining and informative book, global expert meteorologist and weather authority, Jim N R Dale, shares his experiences and advises how you and your business could truly become weather savvy. Weather impact is an all-consuming phenomenon, and, with the rise of climate change, there is no better time to tune into one of the most important aspects of our lives. Certainly, a book for a rainy day!
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