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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Weather, mood and pain

Some time ago I was chatting with a friend from Ohio who has been very sick, going back and forth to the hospital, is still having problems walking and has a lot of pain. Being a male, I was looking for solutions and thus I asked her if her problems decreased/increased depending on the weather. She acknowledged that the weather has a lot to do with how she feels, and that the changing of the seasons really bothers her. Moving south was not an option as that would imply leaving her children.

In fact, the weather's impact on your body and the natural world is so varied, there's a whole scientific study devoted to it: biometeorology. It's a small, but diverse field of atmospheric scientists who study how — and why — the weather impacts animals, plants and humans. From changing symptoms of existing diseases, contributing to new conditions and prompting temporary physiological changes inside your body, the weather's effect on your health is far-reaching. (source)

There's no full agreement among scientists that weather causes pain but there are plausible theories. One leading theory points to changes in air pressure. Although many people say that their pain worsens with damp, rainy weather, research has shown that it's not the cold, wind, rain, or snow. The thing that affects people most is barometric pressure. Barometric pressure often drops before bad weather sets in. (source)

My advice to my friend is actually not very helpful, according to biometeorological studies. In fact, people from San Diego reported the greatest sensitivity to weather changes which came as a surprise finding, considering that it had the warmest climate, compared to other cities. San Diegans noticed pain even with small changes in weather while the temperature is always mild - it never gets too cold or particularly too hot - but with just a small change, people with pain still reported that they could detect it," One biometeorologist says: "I think as mammals, we kind of adjust to our climate."

During my research, I noticed a remarkable advice: improve your mood. People in chronic pain often feel anxious, depressed, and irritable. However, when pain strikes, the brain is often able to override a lot of sensations. "Break things down into bite-size pieces. Learn how to pace yourself, and figure out how to improve your sleep. We know that distraction is really important, so have something to keep your mind occupied, and keep active." (source)

In general, we view the mind, the body, and the environment in which we live, as separate items that are not interconnected. Although pain can indeed be just physical, it may also be a biomarker for something entirely else. I am convinced that stress in the mind always finds a way out in your body like back pains, headaches or stomach ulcers.

Health isn’t merely the absence of disease. It's a state of optimal wellbeing which includes our food, our relationships, our jobs, and all our life experiences. Illness, in contrast, develops when there is a disruption or blockage in the balance between our body and mind. Sickness is the body’s signal that we need to restore balance, eliminate whatever is causing the blockages, and reestablish the balance.

Finding conclusive evidence for the weather (environment) impact on pain (body) may indeed be impossible given the mood (mind) filter in between.