Ellie Harrison: how do storms affect our mood?
The unstoppable power and might of stormy weather can remind us of our place in the world, says Countryfile's Ellie Harrison
In the digital streaming world, distorted Parkinson’s Law states that the catalogue of drama expands beyond available watching time. With a paradox of choice like this, it’s helpful to have a few biased rules for selection: anything directed by Wes Anderson; anything with Tom Hanks in it; or anything recommended by Jane at work.
In my case, no matter how low the budget – and often the lower the better – if a movie has a tsunami CGI-effect, I will definitely watch it. Similarly, ice/ocean/mountain disasters. The warmer my feet and more comfortable the cushions, the more I will seek out Shackleton’s Antarctic story once again.
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These viewing experiences offer pretend witness to the heart-thumping unimaginable danger of nature and a reminder of our safety. It’s a raw and magnificent fear, entirely different to the vile trauma induced by horror films. It harks, too, to rain on the tent or the ear-ringing exhale when stepping into shelter away from wild weather outside. It’s exciting to absorb just a few kilojoules from the edges of nature’s outbursts, and perhaps it’s why we see figures quickstepping in the salt spray on the harbour wall when named storms roar their warning so close by.
Saved by science
In the recent tempest from storm Eunice, bearing a rare red warning and the strongest UK winds (122mph) ever recorded, there were losses: countless trees, powerlines, masonry and, sadly, young lives. The technology we have these days meant meteorologists were able to begin their warnings before the storm had even formed and before the jet stream had picked it up, blowing at 200mph, injecting more energy and propelling it towards us. It led to one of the event’s saving graces: many took heed and acted with caution, experiencing its energy only from the very periphery this time.
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Beyond getting juiced up on safe-peril, there are other theories about how storms beguile us. For some, stormy weather matches their mood. Rain and strong winds don’t insist on happy behaviour and can instead feel congruous to how someone is feeling, which in itself can be soothing. On sunny and warm days, people may feel more alone and separate from the environment, whereas bad weather offers a kind of commiseration effect.
When it becomes a preference, psychologists describe this as a reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, a summer depression that some people treat by using lamps instead of daylight and turning up the air conditioning to be able to enjoy winter clothes.
It is thought, too, that the sound of stormy weather can have a positive impact on how we’re feeling. The white noise of tapping rain offers just enough sensory input to calm us down. Studies have gone further to show the benefit of ‘pink noise’, which has varying frequencies – such as the sounds of wind and stormy weather – enough to stimulate the subconscious mind but not so much that it distracts us. These variable sounds have been shown to have a positive effect on our sleep and memory.
Perhaps, just like looking up at the cosmos, the brawn of the weather has a way of belittling our daily strife and demonstrating how quickly blown away are the inconsequential details that we have fussed over.