Battening down the hatches – how winter storms can affect our mental health

Extreme weather and freezing temperatures can affect us in more ways than merely feeling the cold and struggling to stay warm. As human beings, we’re very sensitive to change so an event like a sudden winter storm can impact our mental health as much as our physical wellbeing.

The first major storm of the winter has already come and gone. Storm Arwen left a trail of devastation in its wake as November 2021 came to an end. Thousands were left without power, and for several days in some cases. Many more were left counting the cost of blown down fences and displaced roof tiles.

Why adverse weather events can affect our mental wellbeing

During periods of extreme cold, we tend to go into ‘hibernation mode’. We naturally stay indoors more and can disengage with meaningful activities. With winter days increasingly short from November right through until we really notice a difference by February or March, our bodies produce less serotonin and more melatonin. This results in lower levels of the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and more of the one associated with fatigue. It stands to reason that depression can hit with the potential for a deeper mental health crisis.

For most of us, an event such as a winter storm is unlikely to bring on a sudden bout of mental health issues. However, for anyone already experiencing anxiety, depression and agoraphobia, a perceived negative and sudden onslaught of severe weather can exacerbate the issue. Storm events can also impact sleep, often triggered by stress.

Furthermore, if you are unfortunate enough to experience damage to your property as a result of a storm, research has shown you could be up to 50% more likely to experience mental health issues as a direct result. A study by the University of Yorkconcluded that even relatively moderate weather events can cause ‘emotional damage’ to people if the sense of security from their home is perceived as being compromised.

Take control of your mental health during periods of extreme weather

It can help to be mindful of how the weather might affect your mental health. This means being aware that we have no control over how conditions are outdoors. We can’t halt the wind, nor can we stop the rain, but we can brace ourselves with a little thought as to how best to deal with such periods.

Focussing on what we can influence can also help. If the forecasters are warning of a storm to come, think about what you can do during the spell that you will still enjoy and those things that you can control in your environment. Reaching out to others rather than falling into a prolonged period of self-isolation is also a good idea.

Perhaps a new hobby will be something you will enjoy if you have to retreat indoors for a period. Perhaps some new warm clothing will help too. Take a look at our latest NHS discounts before you checkout to see if you could save some money along the way.

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