Got the Springtime Blues? You're Not the Only One

The arrival of spring leaves some people feeling down and dispirited.

Posted Mar 15, 2018

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From spring break to spring cleaning, most of us associate springtime with an upbeat, energized feeling. Yet that experience isn’t universally shared.

Among people who are seriously depressed, suicide rates tend to peak in the spring. This peak has been well documented in countries across the globe.

Even for those who don’t have depression, the arrival of spring may sometimes bring a mild, passing case of the blues. Here’s a glance at how the season of blossoming trees and chirping birds may leave some people feeling down and dispirited.

Feeling socially out of step

At any given moment, a sizable chunk of the population is having a bad day. When this happens on a bright spring day, however, the contrast between how you’re feeling and what you believe those around you are experiencing can be demoralizing.

“This is probably the time of year when you least expect to be feeling down,” says Rachel Annunziato, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Fordham University. “If you aren’t embracing the season the way others are, you may wonder, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”

What you can do: Counter self-critical thoughts. “It’s not abnormal to have times when you don’t feel as good as at other times—and sometimes that occurs in the spring,” says Annunziato.

Failing to keep resolutions

By April, half of new year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside. For some people, the realization that they haven’t achieved what they set out to do can lead to negativity.

“They may go into a kind of funk,” says Foojan Zeine, Psy.D., MFT, a psychotherapist and author of Life Reset. “They think, ‘I’m no good,’ ‘I’m a failure,’ ‘I won’t get anywhere.’”

What you can do: Reframe the setback as a learning opportunity rather than an out-and-out failure. “Think through what the barriers were and what you could have done differently,” says Annunziato. Use that information to refine your plan for working toward your goal or to revise the goal to make it more reasonable. Then try again.

Dealing with spring allergies

Allergic rhinitis (a.k.a. hay fever) refers to inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose that’s caused by an allergic reaction. For many affected individuals, symptoms such as a runny nose, stuffiness, itching, and sneezing return like clockwork every spring due to pollen allergies.

There’s growing evidence that symptoms of depression are more common in individuals with allergic rhinitis. What’s the connection? From a physiological perspective, elevated levels of certain inflammation-promoting cytokines are found in people with nasal inflammation, and similar changes are seen in people with depression. Some researchers believe that inflammatory substances may pass from the nasal cavity to the brain, but more study is needed.

Beyond that, raging allergies can make you miserable and sabotage your sleep. On a psychological level, that’s stressful, day in and day out. “You’re just waiting for spring to end while other people are reveling in this beautiful time of year,” says Annunziato.

What you can do: Talk with your primary care doctor or an allergist about getting your allergies under control.

When it’s more than a touch of the blues

Watch for signs that you might have full-fledged depression. And if that's the case, don’t assume that depression will go away on its own just because it’s spring. Some people have a seasonal pattern of illness that starts in the fall or winter and lifts in the spring, year after year. But most cases of depression don’t follow such a clear seasonal pattern.

Be aware that the risk for suicide may be elevated this time of year. Scientists are still debating the reasons for this surprising, but well-replicated, finding. One likely culprit is sunlight, which interacts with the brain’s serotonin system. For most people without depression, spring’s longer hours of sunlight may have a pleasantly energizing effect. For those who are depressed, it may also provide an energy boost—enough to set a suicide plan into action, Zeine says.

What you can do: Depression calls for professional diagnosis and treatment. If you find yourself consistently pulling away from or not enjoying the things you usually enjoy, or if you’re consistently feeling sad and hopeless, discuss the issue with your doctor or a mental health professional. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, reach out for help immediately.

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