If you have ever spent summer in the UK, you will know that there is often little to distinguish the season from any other wet, miserable time of year. Nonetheless, many of us cling to the idea that we are in for endless days of sunshine and cheerfulness – so, when the season draws to a close, having been a washout, it can feel disappointing.
“We have expectations of how things are supposed to be or how we’d imagined them – and invariably it’s not the way we envisaged,” says Rakhi Chand, a psychotherapist. It can be challenging to let this go. As the climate crisis worsens, we should expect our summers to become more extreme, in terms of temperature and rainfall.
The first thing to do, clearly, is push for urgent climate action – and being involved in activism makes you happier. But here are some other ways to boost your mood when it is miserable outside.
“Many of us feel disappointed when the British summertime has been a bit of a washout,” says Kerry McLeod, head of information at the mental health charity Mind. Many people are affected by the change in seasons, she says, but for those with seasonal affective disorder (Sad) “the change has a much greater effect on mood and energy levels, leading to symptoms of depression that have a significant impact on day-to-day life”. Symptoms can include a lack of energy, low mood and difficulty concentrating.
McLeod advises speaking to your GP if you notice a change in feelings, thoughts and behaviour that lasts for more than two weeks or keeps returning. “A lot of the stuff that we know is important for keeping ourselves mentally healthy in general applies here,” says Chand. Without a good dose of sunshine, “it’s even more important to exercise, eat well, socialise and keep a regular sleep pattern”.
A UV lamp or box may help, says Chand (although she advises using one under the guidance of a professional; be wary, in particular, if you have a history of skin cancer). “There’s been a fair bit of research since about the 80s supporting light therapy as being effective for seasonal kinds of depression,” she says.
We create vitamin D from UVB radiation (via direct sunlight) and it can be hard to make enough in the UK, particularly when the sky is steel-grey and we are inside all day. While not clinically proven, a low concentration of vitamin D has been associated with depression. Chand, who takes a vitamin D supplement, says: “Regardless of whether it’s winter or autumn or not, that has an impact.”
Just because it is windy or rainy (or both) doesn’t mean you should give up an outdoor exercise routine. Andy Baddeley, a former middle-distance Olympic runner and the CEO of the Running Channel, says he finds it easier to get out of the door before it starts raining, even if you know it will rain, so keep an eye on the forecast.
Having the right kit will definitely make it a better experience. “Ultimately, your skin is waterproof, so if you’re going out for a short run, and it’s warm enough, you probably don’t need anything in particular. But if you’re going for a longer run and want to be protected from the elements, lightweight Gore-Tex running jackets will keep you completely dry, but they heat up a bit as well.” A pair of waterproof trail-running shoes might be a good investment “and means you can take on puddles, mud and slippery trails”. A peaked running hat will keep the rain from pouring down your face, while glasses help in the wind, to prevent streaming eyes or squinting, “which can make your whole upper body tense up”.
You may need to alter your route – stick to well-draining roads or gravel paths rather than fields, for instance – but a difference in weather can make your usual circuit more exciting if you suddenly have puddles to leap over. “It brings out the child in us,” says Baddeley.
Inclement weather can make it easy to stay indoors and not see people, but withdrawing socially can be a symptom and a cause of poor mental health, says McLeod. Try to make plans to see people – and remember that keeping in touch by text or video call is still “a great way to maintain contact and boost your mood”.
Rather than taking grim weather as a cue to hide inside, “see it as another experience,” says Rob Stoneman, the director of landscape recovery at the Wildlife Trusts. “A low-level hill walk in wet weather becomes a bit more of an adventure. You’ve got the wind and the rain, you’re nicely tucked up with your gear, and it gives you a whole new experience of the outdoors.”
You may become the sort of person who goes on about there being no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, but this is true – light layers, waterproof footwear and clothing (including trousers) will transform the experience.
We know natural and green spaces are good for us and make us happier. “Britain has a fantastic, unique climate,” says Stoneman. “Very few places on Earth have a climate like the UK and I think we forget that.”
Waterfalls can be more impressive in the wet, while activities such as rafting and canyoning can be more fun. If you live in western Scotland, Wales or Cornwall, visit a rainforest. “These are what we call the Celtic rainforests – they’re temperate rainforests, fantastic in any weather, but I would say in the rain they’re particularly magical, incredibly full of mosses, full of lichens, full of life. There is water dripping off the trees, babbling brooks running through,” says Stoneman.
Many animals will hunker down in the rain – like we are tempted to – but in some habitats wet weather can make it easier to spot things. In wetland reserves, rain will make ducks, geese and waders easier to see, says Stoneman: “The rain will settle them down; they’ll stay in one place. The other good spots for bird watching in the rain are coastal locations, because marine birds are not going to be hunkering down in the way that woodland birds will be.”
Who cares if it is raining? You will be wet anyway. There are some safety issues – don’t swim in the sea in heavy rain or bad visibility, and be aware that rain can change the conditions in rivers – but a grey day or light rain doesn’t have to stop you.
Stoneman advises getting a wetsuit and snorkel (they don’t need to be expensive). “You can open up a whole new world of wildlife watching. River snorkelling is a brilliant thing to do, especially in clearer rivers,” he says. You can spot fish such as trout and grayling. Snorkelling around the coast can be exciting if you swim over kelp forests and the places where rock pools are exposed at low tide.
When the sun does shine, grab the chance to enjoy it. The weather in the UK is so changeable, says Chand, that you have to take your outdoor light when you can: “When there is a window of sunshine, I prioritise getting outside.”