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Spring Fever series: What is Spring Fever and do I have it?

Tulips in Bloom
Tulips in Bloom
Catherine Al-Meten

What is Spring Fever, and do I have it?

Comedian and actor, Robin Williams had it right, "Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!" As I sit here today feeling a little lethargic and at the same time antsy, I can't quite seem to put my finger on what it is I need to do next. Spring is a time when the energy levels are so high that it is sometimes hard to slow down and relax. The weather patterns are unpredictable, and the constant changes in weather as well as the longer days, increased hours of sunlight, and general energy level of everyone around me, I have to say I think I have Spring Fever.

Spring fever is a term used to describe that feeling of restlessness that we get when the seasons change. There’s something in the air, it seems, that makes us want to move out of our comfort zone, get out of our heavy winter clothes, and kick off our shoes and run on the beach. Body, mind, emotions, and spirit all go through changes at this time of the year, and there are good reasons for this. If you have been feeling restless, more tired than usual, or over the moon with energy, you may have spring fever. What to do? Once you understand what creates spring fever, you can use the extra light, energy, and pick up you get to make some changes to better adapt to the season.

According to Dr. Sandford Auerbach, the Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Boston University, the increase in sunlight in spring, enters through the retinas of the eyes, and activates hormonal changes. The levels of melatonin, the hormone that affects sleep and moods, changes. In winter, levels of melatonin increase. In spring they decrease. These changes particularly affect people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, increasing levels of depression in winter and lowering those levels in spring.

Increased sunlight and longer daylight hours in spring, increases our levels of energy. In spring, levels of another chemical, serotonin occur. Increased serotonin, longer daylight hours, and more exposure to sunlight tends to lift our spirits, increases levels of energy, and may cause us to feel edgy, restless, or itching to get outside or change our habits. Another thing that occurs is we tend to use sunlight/daylight as our guide for starting and stopping work. We keep working sometimes, long after we are tired and in need of a break. We forget that the amount of sunlight has increased, even though we’ve already worked 8-9 hours without a break.

When the days are longer and when there is more sunlight, people tend to get outside and exercise more. I can tell from where I live on the coast that on a foggy day, the mood of people is lower, and there are fewer people out walking, biking, or running. On sunny days, everyone seems happier, and the streets, walkways, and trails are filled with people out getting exercise and enjoying being outside. Those of us who live in areas where there is less sunlight realize we have to get out to soak up Vitamin D in direct sunlight for at least 10 minutes every day to keep from having our levels of D fall.

Spring is also typically a time when romance blooms. When working with adolescents in middle school and high school, we always knew spring meant a rise in levels of interest in all things related to the birds and the bees. Writers and poets write about spring fever. Mark Twain’s character, Huck Finn says to his friend Tom Sawyer, “It's spring fever, nd when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

According to Dr. Auerbach, the levels of testosterone and sperm count varies seasonally. In Spring, there are more unplanned pregnancies as a result of what the Scientific American describes as “the peak of reproductive fuel increases in men and triggers ovulation in women.”

Spring is a time when the light increases, the days grow longer, and the weather gets warmer. The excitement of change, and the ability to move more freely makes us feel more energetic, excited, somewhat distracted. At the same time, it’s the time of the year when many of us have been working hard, going to school, and may have just come out of the harsh living conditions of winter. We now want to play, to get away, and to relax a little more than usual. We dream of picnics, and may take our first trips out on Spring Break, Easter Vacation, or begin making plans for summer. All the excitement triggers the endorphins in the brain (those pain-relieving hormones that make us feel good), and that feeds itself and makes us start to feel better. We may feel over-excited as well, and need to modulate our activities, making sure we get enough sleep.

What are some of the ways that Spring Fever is affecting you? What are some of the ways we can use this increased energy and sense of well being to get our live, homes, and offices in order? How can we adjust our schedules to use the increased daylight for equal parts of work and play, so as to avoid burning ourselves out? This week we will look at how we can benefit from Spring Fever for making some healthy changes in our home environment, our daily schedules, our nutrition, and our ongoing desire to make our houses, apartments, offices, studios, and rooms, more homey and functional for all our needs.

Before the next article in this series, do a little appraisal about how you are being affected by Spring Fever. What are some of the areas where you are struggling? In what areas are you excited to make some changes? How might you like to use this extra energy to be happier, healthier, and more productive and creative? In the meantime, visit the Providence Healthcare website to learn how to deal with Spring Fever.