Spring Fever: Why You Feel Different With The Change In Season

 

All of a sudden, we’re delighting in lingering sunshine, warm breezes and bare legs. If where you live is anything like New York City this week, then you might find yourself battling a bout of spring fever. Perhaps you’re easily distracted and less productive than usual, daydreaming of an alfresco dinner or cocktail. Or maybe you’re feeling particularly smitten or more energized than usual.

But are these slight changes in our moods and behaviors all in our heads or rooted in science? Researchers have studied the link between weather and mood for years, but really only scratched the surface of what’s truly going on.

You’re Not As Sleepy

Just as your bare legs are soaking in the sun, our brains are busy processing the bright light as well. The increased sunshine signals the body to produce less melatonin, which plays an important role in sleep. “There’s more daylight, so people have more energy, sleep a little less,” Sanford Auerbach, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Boston University, told Web MD. With less melatonin pumping through your veins, you may also feel a lift in your mood and a more revved-up sex drive. 

You’re Happier

Another chemical change that seems to occur during the transition to spring is an increase in serotonin. A 2008 study found that in the fall and winter, there is a greater level of what’s known as serotonin transporter in the brain, which removes more serotonin than during the spring and summer. Known for its role in mood, serotonin is likely involved in that sudden lust for life we feel in springtime, according to the LA Times. This also may be why winter depression, known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD, often lifts in the spring, according to Scientific American. It may also account for the increase in energy that makes some people feel restless and distracted, just itching to spend time outdoors.

…Because You’re Exercising More?

Some would argue it’s not just hormones at work, but that there’s another possible reason people are happier the more time they spend outdoors on a sunny day: It’s likely you’re logging extra hours exercising. Your spirits could be lifted by the mood-enhancing powers of working out itself, or those of a healthy dose of vitamin D, rather than a springtime hormonal shift.

You’re In The Mood

Maybe it’s the host of hormonal changes, or maybe it’s as simple as trading winter sweaters for spring skirts, but love is definitely in the air come springtime. Obstetricians report high rates of unplanned pregnancies in the spring, according to the LA Times, which may be due to seasonal variation in sperm counts or the springtime peak of the “reproductive fuel” that produces testosterone in men and triggers ovulation in women, according to Scientific American. However, sexual activity and rates of sexually transmitted diseases are actually highest in the fall and winter, according to WebMD.

Or, You’re Depressed

While many feel a burst of energy and happiness come spring, the season can be a period of darkness for others and is actually witness to a peak in suicides. As psychiatrist and neuropsychiatrist John Sharp, M.D., wrote for Psychology Today: The palpable energy of the season becomes a stressor that can become too much for some of us who have been struggling for too long to get by. In the case of those suffering from a major depression, this can be just plain too much. The extra energy and increased expectations of the season can be the last straw, pushing us right to the edge, or in some cases, tragically, over the edge. However, researchers found in a 2000 study that only people in climates with significant change between the seasons experience this increase in springtime suicides.

You’re Sniffly

Science of the seasons aside, there’s at least one very real health concern that increases this time of year: allergies. More than 40 million Americans have allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Pollen, the most common springtime trigger of sniffling and sneezing, is released earlier and earlier as winters grow milder, according to ABC News.