Have you been feeling increasingly irritable, depressed, and hopeless this Spring? You’re certainly not alone. Mental health professionals are familiar with the spike in depressive symptoms this time of year, but many people would find that counterintuitive; assuming that rates would be higher in the darker, more isolated months of Winter. Without being too grim, suicide rates have historically been higher in the months of April, May, and June, at a rate nearly 2-3 times higher than in the month of December (read more).
With increased hours of sunlight, warmer weather, signs of life re-emerging, and Covid vaccination rates bringing promise of more social opportunities; why would people tend to feel more depressed this Spring? The answer can lie in part to sensory overload, feelings of hopelessness, and our environment.
Many of us with seasonal depression, often look to Spring for the respite it offers from shorter, colder days, only to find ourselves still hopelessly depressed in Spring. To be surrounded by sunlight, birds chirping, and budding plants completely contrasts our internal and emotional state. At this point, many people find themselves taking their mood personally; that their mindset is a reflection of themselves as being deficient, and losing hope for the depression as being only temporary. When shame creeps in, we can start to berate ourselves and our situation as “never getting better”.
This year in particular, our Central Nervous System is absolutely fried by this point; political unrest, systemic racial injustice, financial strain, a contentious election, and global pandemic…paired with the constant ‘noise’ of alerts from emails, text messages, calendar reminders, and notifications that are now considered normal factors of our daily routine; who wouldn’t feel crazy by now? The stress from our external world dictates how our body should be responding to these threats, increasing Cortisol, which then creates a vicious cycle of increased anxiety, difficult sleeping and concentrating, as several examples of symptoms.
When we are ‘functioning’ from this highly-aroused state, it can take minimal sensory stimulation or inconvenience to completely set us off. I see it constantly in my office where something as innocuous as getting behind a slow person driving or stubbing your toe send people into a tailspin, who are then completely shamed by their anger outburst. We are now reemerging into a more stimulating and social environment from winter isolation and quarantine, where our bodies need to adjust to the sensory input of our environment and crowds. Each of us innately has a threshold of tolerance for noise and stimulation, so individual awareness is key in recognizing when you’re overstimulated.
I mention sensory stimulation in Spring because of one incredibly annoying factor we don’t address enough- WIND! Yes, even windy days can be the final straw in our sensory threshold. Growing up in Colorado, Spring was the only season I didn’t care for with its seemingly bi-polar antics and constant Chinook winds blowing off the mountains. Evidence of extreme winds causing emotional upheaval have historically been shown, but with little scientific explanation. The main reasoning relates to the increased Positive Ions in the environment, which are detrimental to our mood (read more here).
Each of our situations are unique, but awareness into environmental factors that can contribute to mood and recognition of mental health trends this time of year can help relieve us of our ‘it’s just me’ attitude. I always recommend caring for our sensory needs when we are overwhelmed (comfortable clothing, taking a bath, lighting a candle, eating a healthy meal) and moving up to physical exercise as a release from pent-up stress, before engaging with our loved one’s as much as we are able to. It’s cliché, but deep breathing also works wonders to regulate our Sympathetic Nervous System when we are over-aroused, back to our relaxed Parasympathetic Nervous System. Take a breath, it’s not just you, and there are plenty of resources available for supplementing your mental well-being should you need them!