Spring Anxiety and Depression: April Can Be Tough

Although American poet T. S. Eliot didn’t have an advanced psychology degree, I think he nailed the reasons why so many people get depressed and anxious in the spring in his classic poem, “The Waste Land.” He writes, “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

I just spent the afternoon on discussion boards of several health websites reading about all the different reasons people are suddenly, surprisingly, knocked to their knees with anxiety and depression come the first weeks of spring. As one guy said, he made it through one of the most brutal Chicago winters he had ever endured with no symptoms of depression, only to find himself an anxious mess once the snow melted.

Why can good weather bring on bad moods?

1. Change

For starters, it’s change. While some human beings thrive on unsteady ground, most of us fear movement of any kind. All change — even the good and healthy change we need and pursue — brings with it an element of anxiety. That’s especially the case for highly sensitive folks among us who are easily prone to anxiety and depression. “Breeding lilacs out of the dead land,” requires an element of adjustment, and adjustment isn’t always easy.

2. Hormones

Just as the lack of sunlight may alter brain levels of certain mood-controlling chemicals — such as the hormone melatonin — in November, the same moody chemicals and their messengers get confused when the light comes out in the spring. In fact, ten percent of people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) experience symptoms in reverse: Once the weather turns warm, they grow melancholy. Any shift in our circadian rhythm — a 24-hour cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, eat, work, and take a phone call from our parents — can produce feelings of anxiety.

3. Memories

“Mixing memory and desire,” as Eliot writes, can be a hazardous activity. I think we do that in April because the spring months hold so many milestones, like graduations and weddings. We look back with nostalgia or regret or with unfulfilled dreams and desires. This season of rebirth prods us to keep moving … maybe too quickly. Perhaps we’re not ready yet.

4. Allergies and toxins

Eliot’s April would have been even crueler if he had to confront all the environmental toxins and allergies we have going on today. I used to think that I didn’t suffer from spring allergies because my symptoms don’t involve sniffles and purple eyes. However, now I know what different kinds of allergies can do to your mood. If you are sensitive to environmental toxins — and the majority of us are — you may very well have a harder time in the spring because the blowing winds and warmer temperatures can kick up a ton of irritants that, in turn, can cause inflammation in different biological systems and bad moods.

If you have experienced a spike in anxiety or depression, know that you are not alone and that several reasons could factor into your dip in mood. Enjoy the warmer weather if you can, but don’t get down on yourself if you don’t experience the spring high that other people do. Self-compassion is key.

A version of this published on Sanity Break.

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11 thoughts on “Spring Anxiety and Depression: April Can Be Tough

  1. I totally relate to this. While everyone is chirping on about the great spring warm weather, I’m secretly craving the crisp cool air of fall or even the cold of winter. Those are my favorite months of hibernation, warm sweaters, reading and staying home and being cozy. There’s so much pressure in the spring and summer to be out and about. Don’t get me wrong, I love nature and being outdoors, but I like solitary activities like running. I also think for me, it takes me back to summers as a kid when my mother incessantly complained about the heat and fought with my dad to get the A/C units in the windows. It was a big battle and I think it just tainted my ability to embrace the warmer months. Whatever the reasons, I’m glad I’m not alone in feeling blue when everyone is digging out their tube tops!

  2. We followers & readers, benefit from your research, conferences, discussions- you synthesize information from various sources then make available your written finished product, accessible, understandable, relateable. I’m grateful.

  3. Why goodness! Thank God for this because I just suddenly became unstable to the point of not being able to function at work or be out and about with friends and family. So that’s what this is.. Very interesting.
    I had no idea why I moved from being “very well and everything great” to this sudden unexplainable phase.
    Thank you for the information.. Now I can handle myself better since I now understand what is going on and what causing it.

  4. I’m sitting in an empty church before a lit candle. There is an absence in the presence. I pray the silence and feel so weary on a beautiful spring day.
    Thank you for sharing. It is helpful.

  5. Therese, I have always thought you were a great great strong as hell person!

    I’m not. I plan to have a tag on my fig toe by late tonight or early morning. I have NOTHING, repeat…..not a DOD DAMN FUCKING THING TO LIVE FOR…………….so O have plans to live no longer. don’t call any god damn “authorities” PLEASE respect my wishes as I have respected your life and your hard work. I just want to be dead. what is so WRONG with-that?
    Goodbue. and best wishes on your future work.

    1. I just read your message and want you to consider delaying your decision just by a few hours or a day. Of course I also urge you to speak with your doctor or to call a suicide hotline. Maybe a respite in a hospital program is what you need, the time and space to be safe. I do understand the despair. I really do. But I also know it comes and goes and that you won’t feel this way forever. Please hang on to the thread of hope that promises a better tomorrow. Praying for you with all my heart.

  6. I’m not one to enjoy the spring and summer, Too many memories come to mind, We were M/C riders and a tragedy happened that now left me alone, We so enjoyed getting on the bike leaving our troubles for a while and just enjoying life, Now those memories are gone, I get up in the morning with sweaty palms and heart racing , when i see what a beautiful it is, It just sucks
    I like the fall and winter b/c the days are shorter and my day ends early, No more time to think, .

  7. Thank you to EVERYONE for everything I just read above.
    Despite four decades of therapy, antidepressants, therapy and 12-step groups, and tons of books, I still live with the oppressive and ravaging feelings of just not wanting to do what it takes to get through the day. Some days are easier than others – they are truly gifts. Something I wholeheartedly believe is that I may not be here if it weren’t for my dog – here’s to the power of pets!
    Sometimes I am amazed that I am still here at 59, after two failed suicide attempts, at 16 and at 21, and living most of my life alone, isolated – by choice. As for Spring – I guess I can take it or leave it, but I do like shorter days, and rainy days when I don’t feel like I should be outside, active all the time. There is an old song – “spring can really hang you up the most”. So true.

  8. It’s so incredible when you can concede you need assistance. Such huge numbers of individuals need to emulate your example. They can’t let it be known to themselves and it genuinely breaks them. I trust you are progressing admirably

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