How can that be? Isn’t everyone supposed to love the bright sun, energy and opportunities of spring? Is there something wrong with us if we feel like closing the blinds and crawling under the covers instead of putting on our summer shorts and running around the block?
If you are one of those people who dread spring, be assured: you are not alone. Many people experience various symptoms of depression in the spring. Ironically, suicide rates are higher in spring and early summer than in fall and winter. The theories for this are varied, ranging from hormones to light levels to temperature variances to our beliefs about the meaning of the seasons
Here are just a few reasons spring can stress us rather than energize us:
Expectations: Media, magazines, Facebook, and retail stores all seem to be saying: “Lighten up, strip down, get outdoors, find your friends, have a party, wear bright colors, join the human race!” If we have been cozy in winter hibernation, these glaring messages can be like staring into a bright light when your eyes are accustomed to dark: too fast, too soon can be painful. As a friend observed: “I feel like I have to readjust all my dials and lubricate my gears, and I’m not ready yet!”
Increased Socializing: Warm weather brings more opportunities to engage with others. One researcher calls this an increase in “the density of human interactions.” Whether it’s on the sidelines at your child’s soccer game, on the street, or even at the grocery store, you are surrounded by people hustling and bustling with a new energy. This can feel overwhelming, and give us a heightened sense of loneliness.
Comparing ourselves to others: Spring can feel like a giant “should”: you should look great and feel great, or at least act like it. A friend walks by dressed in a new spring fashion, looking as if she’s been working out all winter. Your buddy speeds by on his bike looking as if he’d been on an elliptical all winter. They wave, declaring “Isn’t this weather great?” And maybe you don’t feel so fit or slim or positive.
Whether you are simply slow to emerge from winter’s seclusion, or you have been struggling with depression and can’t believe the promise of new life, it is important to be kind to yourself.
Here are some ways to approach spring with a style and pace that allows you to adjust.
Take hints from nature: Animals coming out of hibernation move slowly, look a bit ruffled, and are pretty out of shape. If that’s you, increase your activity gradually – try a 5-10 minute walk around the block a few times/week. Sign up for a Wellness consultation for support. Spring colors are browns, grays, soft greens and hints of red/pink. Allow yourself to mirror these colors for now if you’re not ready for outrageous oranges and neon pinks. Be the best “you”: choose clothes that flatter your positive parts and camouflage the others.
Stress management: Spring and summer mean life gets busier. Take extra care to share: the driving (carpool the kids), the chores outdoors, etc. Schedule quiet time for yourself as you adjust to the new requirements of the season.
Seek additional help: If you feel depressed, anxious, or fearful of the season’s change, if you find you are unable to adjust to seasonal changes on your own, call your physician, or a therapist in your community, for a consultation. You deserve a chance to experience spring in a new light.
Linda Patterson, LICSW, is a counselor in the Employee and Family Assistance Program at the University of Vermont Medical Center.