Seasonal Depression Can Happen in Spring — Here’s Why and How to Cope

Why it happens

science.org

Spring depression is less common than winter depression, and experts don’t know for certain exactly what causes it. A few potential theories include:

Increased daylight and warmth

If you don’t handle heat well, warmer days may bring discomfort, especially when they involve more hours of daylight. Extreme brightness and heat could leave you feeling low and unmotivated and factor into increased restlessness and irritability.

The increase in sunlight can also disrupt circadian rhythms and throw off your typical sleep-wake cycle, making it more difficult to get the amount of sleep you need for optimal health and well-being.

To put it another way, bright sunny days can leave your brain on high alert, making it difficult to relax when you need to wind down.

Many people notice changes in their sleep habits as a symptom of depression — but it’s worth keeping in mind that insomnia, a condition where you regularly don’t get enough sleep, can also raise your chancesTrusted Source of developing depression.

Imbalances in brain chemicals

Your brain produces a number of different neurotransmitters, or chemicals messengers, that help regulate mood, emotions, and other important bodily processes.

But having too much, or too little, of them in your system can disrupt typical function and play a part in the development of mood and mental health symptoms.

Experts believe that winter depression relates, in part, to a drop in serotonin — a chemical that’s typically produced after exposure to natural light. An increase in melatonin, another hormone linked to winter depression, can leave you feeling more tired and lethargic than usual.

It’s been suggested that spring depression may follow the reverse pattern:

  • The sudden increase in sunlight cues your body to produce less melatonin, so you end up getting less sleep than you need. As noted above, this lack of sleep can contribute to, or worsen, symptoms of depression.
  • At the same time, levels of serotonin in your body increase as a natural outcome of longer days and sunnier weather. While too little serotonin is linked to depression, too much could also contributeTrusted Source to mental health concerns, including social anxiety disorder.

If you’re particularly sensitive to these changes, a surplus of serotonin (not to mention the lack of sleep) could potentially contribute to feelings of irritability and restlessness, along with a low mood.

That said, it’s still unclear what actually causes spring depression.

Pollen sensitivity

Do you have seasonal allergies? Beyond making you feel congested, groggy, and flat-out miserable, pollen sensitivity might also contribute to changes in your mood, including feelings of depression:

  • Research from 2007Trusted Source considered a sample of 845 African and African American students living in Washington, D.C. Researchers noted that African American participants experienced allergies and asthma at higher rates and often had more severe symptoms than African participants. Participants tended to have worse moods on high pollen days — and those who experienced pollen-related changes in mood were more likely to experience spring and summer seasonal depression.
  • Research from 2019Trusted Source surveyed 1,306 Old Order Amish adults — a primarily farming population that has a higher exposure to pollen and other seasonal allergens. The results of this study also point to a link between high pollen days and worse mood symptoms among those with symptoms of spring or summer depression.

Other potential risk factors

A few additional factors may raise your chances of experiencing seasonal depression, including:

  • Sex. Women tend to experience MDD with a seasonal pattern at higher ratesTrusted Source, but men tend to have more severe symptoms.
  • A family history of MDD with a seasonal pattern. Having a close family member, like a parent or sibling, with spring or winter depression can raise your chances of experiencing it yourself.
  • A personal history of bipolar disorder. Living with bipolar disorder can increase your sensitivity to circadian rhythm disruptions that happen with seasonal changes. Shifts in your circadian rhythm can also play a partTrusted Source in episodes of mania.
  • Changes in your schedule. If you have a job that changes with the seasons and leaves you less (or more) active in the spring and summer months, the resulting lack of structure or added stress can leave you feeling low and contribute to other changes in mood, sleep, and overall emotional health.
  • Geographical location. Living in a hotter or more humid climate could play a part in symptoms of spring and summer depression.

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