Mental Health - A girl sitting in the grass under a tree with her head resting on her knees

Is spring fever real?

Self-care tips for your mental health during the springtime
April 2, 2019

Spring time! Flowers are blooming, and the sun is starting to come out. For many people, spring is the time of year for new beginnings and renewed energy. Carly McCord, PhD, director of Telebehavioral Health and clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, explains how the changing season can impact mental health, and what you can do to build upon or cope with the changes.

“People may feel more energy or a renewed sense of self in the spring,” McCord said. “They may become inspired to do some spring cleaning or start to eat healthy. Do not be afraid to take advantage of these feelings.”

Seasonal affective disorder

However, if what you’re feeling this spring isn’t as positive, McCord has some advice on that as well.

Recurrent major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns, or what people commonly call seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depressive disorder related to the changing seasons. People affected by SAD have symptoms of depression that start and end at the same time every year. For most people, symptoms start in the fall and continue through the winter months.

However, for others, SAD can affect them in the spring and summer instead. Symptoms typical of spring and summer SAD include loss of interest, trouble sleeping, changes in appetite, weight changes and agitation or anxiety.

The American Academy of Family Physicians states that 4 to 6 percent of the population may have SAD, and another 10 to 20 percent may experience milder symptoms.

Utilize the sunlight

“Changing levels of sunlight can play a big role in changing moods,” said McCord. “In the winter months, the lack of consistent sunlight can impact mood by throwing the body’s biological clock out of sync.”

McCord mentions lack of sunlight also reduces the body’s production of serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals directly influence people’s feelings of happiness and well-being.

Come spring time, many people tend to get more sunlight—walking to the car, taking the trash out or engaging in other everyday outdoor activities. The weather is better, and there are more hours of sunlight. Those who found themselves feeling low during the winter months may notice a positive mood increase because the serotonin and dopamine production levels increase.

McCord recommends utilizing the light the best way you can. “Do not underestimate the impact of simple changes. Sitting on the bench outside or even opening your blinds can greatly improve your mental health.”

Get moving

Studies continuously show consistent exercise significantly improves feelings of depression. “Weather tends to improve temperature-wise during spring, so people can use this to their advantage,” McCord said. “Whether you use your lunch break to walk around the building or get out to enjoy the longer days at a park, any and all exercise will help.”

She also recommends having some backup exercise plans in case of rainy weather.

Create new memories

Moods are heavily influenced by different physical, emotional and social cues, McCord said. A lot of these cues can be from memories. People may associate certain seasons with specific memories like a favorite holiday or—on the flip side—the death of a loved one.

If possible, spend time with family or friends. Even if your support network is still growing, many cities and towns host community-wide events. “Engaging with your support network is crucial to avoiding and managing seasonal affective disorder,” McCord said.

Eat healthy

In addition to increasing physical health, a healthy and balanced diet encourages feelings of well-being. Studies have shown a positive correlation between quality diets and better mental health outcomes.

“Many fruits and vegetables come into season during the spring,” McCord said. “It is easy to crave sugary foods and simple carbohydrates when you are feeling low. I encourage you to take time to explore ways to incorporate some of the seasonal fruits and vegetables into your diet.”

Start fresh with your mental health in the spring

Many people only associate seasonal affective disorder with the winter months. The truth is people may experience symptoms and mood changes at any time of the year. Many people may need to pursue counseling in addition to trying these tips.

“People who do not notice an improvement of their mood during the spring may wonder why everyone else seems to be enjoying the weather change,” said McCord. “If you are concerned or need to talk through your feelings, then speak with your primary care provider or a mental health expert.”

— Mary Leigh Meyer

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