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?
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.
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.
“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.