If gray clouds and drizzly skies make you feel more tired or sad than usual, you’re not the only one.
Evidence even links rain to mood changes that could affect anything from how you vote — 2018 research suggests it made people less likely to vote for change — to how you perceive customer service at a restaurant.
But can rain go so far as to cause depression? Not exactly. It’s more accurate to say that rain can contribute to low moods, as well as seasonal depression.
Read on to learn why rain might leave you feeling down, plus get a few tips for ways to manage its effects on your mood.
Since depression is a mental health condition involving specific diagnostic criteria, rain is very unlikely to directly cause an episode of depression. According to the most recent edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5),” depression involves symptoms like:
- feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness
- fatigue or lack of energy
- feelings of guilt or diminished self-worth
- changes in sleep and appetite
- thoughts of suicide
For a diagnosis of depression, you must have experienced these symptoms on most days for at least 2 weeks.
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A mix of factors can help explain why rain casts a shadow on the moods of so many:
Major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal pattern
You might also know this type of major depression as seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Seasonal depression involves depression symptoms during certain times of the year, usually when it’s dark, wet, and cold. Less commonly, people also experience seasonal depression during the sunniest parts of the year.
Living with seasonal depression means you’re more likely to experience negative effects on your mood as a result of weather, especially as the seasons change. A 2017 study suggests a blend of weather-related factors may contribute to seasonal depression through dips in sunlight and serotonin levels.
But rain can still have an impact on your mood if you don’t have a seasonal depression diagnosis.
“While there are those who meet the criteria for seasonal affective disorder, most people will feel a decrease in motivation, energy, or happiness when it is raining,” says Kristine Berrett, a clinical psychologist in Washington state.
Lack of sunlight
The lack of sunlight that inevitably comes with most rainy days could be the key to many a low mood. One reason behind this? The connection between serotonin, melatonin, and sunlight.
So, rain clouds continually blocking out the sun can disrupt serotonin and melatonin production. This disruption can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule, which can, in turn, affect your energy levels and mood throughout the day.
Concern about climate change
Climate change is a source of anxiety for many, and feelings of helplessness about the state of the planet could also lead to sadness or depression. Drought, flooding, and other climate-related changes in rain patterns can easily have an impact on your mental health and overall well-being, especially when these changes affect you directly.
For example, 2020 research highlights the ways some people in Indigenous communities responded to rain with anxiety after losing their homes to flooding in the past. A
It’s natural to feel sad or disappointed when rainy weather foils your go-to mood-boosting activities. And the longer you find yourself stuck indoors, the more profound these negative mood effects may become.
For instance, you might experience lower energy or fatigue when heavy rain keeps you inside if you’d usually head out to hike, bike, or garden.
While rain can make it harder to get into a good mood, the causes of depression are complex. In short, depression typically involves a range of factors beyond the weather.
Some research on the connection between rain and depression has also found contradictory results.
A study from 2014 considered data from nearly 14,000 participants and found that men actually experienced higher rates of depression in warmer and sunnier areas of Spain. Men who lived in rainier areas had a lower risk of depression.
As for other factors that might increase your chances of developing depression? A few of the main ones include:
- Sedentary lifestyle. A
2020 research reviewconnected sedentary habits to a higher risk of depression. In addition, mentally “passive” sedentary activities — like watching Netflix — put people at higher risk for depression than mentally “active” habits like reading or crafting. And of course, it might go without saying that rain can make exercise seem far less desirable than cozying up on the couch with a good miniseries.
- Chronic stress.
Research from 2015suggests that people who experience heightened stress responses may also have higher levels of depression. If rain triggers your stress response — maybe you find driving in the rain stressful, or the weather interferes with your work in some way — it could play into depression symptoms.
- Unbalanced diet. Diets low in nutrition can contribute to depression over time. If you find rainy weather miserable, and your mood leads you to reach for foods with empty calories, you might find this lack of nutrition affects your mood — especially if you live in an area with a lot of rainy days.
Other key risk factors for depression include:
- history of trauma
- previous grief and loss
Berrett not only understands how rain can dampen your mood — she’s experienced this herself.
“I often joke with my clients that we’re all solar-powered, but it’s obvious in my clinical practice when there has been a streak of rainy days as depressive symptoms, life crises, and relationship issues increase,” she explains.
When she moved from Southern California to the Seattle area, Berrett felt more tired and noticed less enjoyment in her activities. But after 22 years of living in the Pacific Northwest, Berrett says she’s found ways to maintain her energy and mood that help even during the rainiest seasons.
1. Utilize light therapy
Exposure to full-spectrum bright white light, particularly in the morning hours, could help regulate your circadian rhythm, reducing symptoms of depression. Light therapy may also boost serotonin levels in your body, reducing your susceptibility to low moods.
Some insurance companies cover light boxes — so if you’d like to try this approach, you might start by investigating what your plan offers.
“I further encourage my clients to seek things that are light and help them feel full of light — including just having more lights on in their homes,” Berrett adds.
2. Exercise indoors
“People often joke about watching for rain breaks to step outside at a moment’s notice,” Berrett says of people in the Pacific Northwest. “I personally exercise in a gym, so weather doesn’t limit my routine. I also walk my dogs even when it’s pouring out.”
A few ideas for ways to get active without leaving your house:
- blasting some of your favorite music and having an impromptu dance party
- finding a yoga, Pilates, or high intensity interval training (HIIT) video on YouTube
- busting out your mop or vacuum and ticking some chores off your list
If you live in an especially rainy climate, you might consider another potential option: investing in exercise equipment for your home.
3. Prioritize sleep
You might find yourself feeling more tired during the dark, rainy days, Berrett says. She encourages keeping to a regular sleep schedule as the seasons progress, which generally means sleeping the same amount of hours no matter how light or dark it is outside.
“Regulating sleep can help you feel more motivated and energized even when surrounded by rain and clouds,” Berrett adds.
How to get a better night’s sleep
The following could help improve your sleep if less-than-desirable weather disrupts it:
- read up on sleep hygiene and craft a personalized bedtime routine
- consider taking melatonin supplements to help you fall asleep faster
- limit alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, all of which can disrupt sleep
4. Resist the urge to isolate
According to an Italian study on the effects of lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, isolation can play a part in mental health symptoms. The longer the isolation, the more severe the potential effects — and ongoing rain can become another force keeping you from getting out and about.
Berrett explains that she encourages clients to continue planning gatherings with others during rainy months, including lunch dates, game nights, or movie dates.
“In-person gatherings have decreased due to COVID, but they’re so essential for emotional well-being. We are neurologically wired to connect with others, and electronic connections, while better than nothing, do not fully meet our social needs,” she adds.
If you’re starting to become overwhelmed by feelings of sadness (or no feelings at all), it’s always OK to reach out for some extra support.
When a persistent low mood makes it harder to get through day-to-day life, it could be a good idea to connect with a therapist, Berrett says. “This is particularly important when mood impacts your ability to work or go to school, or if mood symptoms begin to place strain on your relationships,” she adds.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you determine when to reach out for more support with rain-induced malaise — or any other concern. Reach out if:
- You’re finding basic self-care, like brushing your teeth or getting out of bed, more difficult.
- You experience fatigue that affects your ability to get through your day.
- You have suicidal thoughts.
When considering potential therapists, it may help to find one who can empathize with the impact of rainy weather. It may help to start your search with therapists located near you (and thus, likely to live in the same climate).
Rain isn’t for everyone — and if it makes you feel down in the dumps, you’re not alone. But just as rain has proven effects on your mood, so do the many remedies you can use to ease its impact.
Trying light therapy, prioritizing sleep and nutrition, and sticking to sunny-day routines as much as possible offer a few ways to break through a low mood brought on by rain and clouds.
Courtney Telloian is a writer with work published on Healthline, Psych Central, and Insider. Previously, she worked on the editorial teams of Psych Central and GoodTherapy. Her areas of interest include holistic approaches to health, especially women’s wellness, and topics centered around mental health.