Why Spring Depression and Anxiety?


spring blossomsI’ve always found it curious that more suicides happen in the spring than in any other season. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, suicide rates are lowest in the winter months and highest in the springtime.

What’s so bad about April and May? The sun is out, winter coats have disappeared, people start throwing Frisbees, even our dogs are strutting down the streets with wide grins. Why the anxiety and depression?

1. The Shoulds

The pressure to be happy – it is a fast track to the Black Hole. You think since colleagues are whistling as they hold the door for you at work that you should whistle as well. Or at least WANT to whistle. It’s the comparison thing. It happens to me every year. The voices in my head sound like this: “Be happy. Be happy!!!! Everyone is happy. You’re wearing sandals! Bye bye black wool! Colors, look at that! Pastel blouses! Your yard has a freakin tulip. This is the life. BE HAPPY.”

I classify these symptoms under the “Should” disease, a file in the gray matter of my brain that holds a LOT of material.

2. Chaaaaaannnnnge

For highly sensitive people—and most people who struggle with chronic depression and anxiety are highly sensitive—any kind of change will trigger panic. Our bodies detest any kind of alteration in life style. If a snowstorm that has the kids home for a week is dependable and static and constant, then it actually feels better than a beautiful spring day, because our sensory system isn’t uttering an SOS to the limbic system, our emotional center. Psychologist Elaine Aron explains in her book, “The Highly Sensitive Person,” that a subtle adjustment like a shift in seasons messes with the nervous system and sends the highly sensitive person into a state of overarousal, which unfortunately has nothing to do with sex drive.

The change in us is as physical as it is mental. Just as the lack of sunlight may alter brain levels of certain mood-controlling chemicals – such as the hormone melatonin — in January and February, the same moody chemicals and their messengers get confused when the light comes out in the spring. Although the light is preferable to darkness, change still feels bad.

3. Allergies

Emerging research has identified a link between allergies and depression. At least people who suffer from allergies seem to be at a higher risk for of depression. That makes sense. The headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue associated with allergies are all are symptoms of depression, as well. Anahad O’Connor of the New York Times did the homework:

Several large studies have found that the risk of depression in people with severe allergies is about twice that of those without allergies. In 2008, researchers at the University of Maryland reported that this link may help explain a widely established — but poorly understood — increase in suicides during the spring every year. Analyzing medical records, the authors found that in some patients, changes in allergy symptoms during low- and high-pollen seasons corresponded to changes in their depression and anxiety scores.

A Finnish population study in 2003 found a link between allergies and depression; however, women were much more likely to be affected. In 2000, a study of twins in Finland also showed a shared risk for depression and allergies, a result of genetic influences, the authors wrote.

So there you have it! Three theories on why I’m not as happy as whistlers dressed in pastels and the Frisbee-throwers during the months of April and May, and why I have to work harder at sanity during the springtime.

Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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2 Responses
  1. This spring time phenomenon is appreciated! Spring is my worst struggle and it lightens my “should” baggage to realize the physical challenge my body’s nervous system is under. I hate that the most beautiful time of the year is something not to look forward to. But, one day at a time, being open to the little miracles of the seasons changing is better than not. I accomplished running a marathon for the first time last fall. In the depression marathon, spring has a lot of “hills” to get through, but there will be flat running in the soon future. Thank you for this entry!!

  2. Thank you for this entry! The facts here validate my uphill spring struggles. In the metaphor of running, after these spring hills, there will be flat distance. Looking forward to it!! Thank you!