When most people think of "Seasonal Depression," the frigid winter months automatically come to mind. And rightfully so: the holidays can be lonely for those without close family, and the miserable weather prevents us from getting outdoors in the sun & fresh air for months at a time. But what if I told you that spring is actually the peak time for suicides around the world? Whether your "Spring" happens in April or November (Northern vs. Southern hemisphere), suicide rates spike at that time. It's true: April really is "the cruelest month" (thanks, T.S. Elliot). But why? What's not to love about nature's rebirth...the longer days & shorter nights...birds chirping, flowers blooming, the promise of summer's bountiful sunshine around the corner?
Well, nothing really. The problem isn't aesthetics so much as biology. Springtime brings with it a number of subtle but sinister changes, one of which is seasonal allergies. Even if you're not sneezing & wheezing, allergens in the air can cause an increase in inflammatory cytokines which have a bummer effect on mood. The crazy springtime wind stirring up pollen/mold spores/dust only helps propel it into your body's cavities that much easier too. If that's not bad enough, many of the oral antihistamines used to control allergy symptoms ALSO are capable of affecting mood & energy levels as a side effect. Even the newer meds. So there's no escaping it for some unlucky folks.
|Defining problematic fatigue|
Secondly, the switch to Daylight Savings time along with the increasingly long days can funk with your circadian rhythm in a negative way. For those with tiredness as a primary symptom, it's believed this is caused by a lack of serotonin & an excess of melatonin due to a deficit of sun exposure during the winter. There may also be hormonal & blood flow issues at play that aggravate tiredness in the spring as the temperature rises. You may be used to eating a lot of "comfort foods" (i.e. carbs) over the winter & now find that they are dragging you down as your body is trying to wake up out of its hibernation mode.
So what can be done about this silent menace? Not much info exists about springtime SAD or fatigue, unfortunately. A lot of it focuses on common sense stuff like eating a healthy diet & sticking to a regular sleep schedule. If you have seasonal allergies, try a nasal allergy medicine like Fluticasone or Nasacort instead of the systemic ones you take by mouth, as these are less likely to cause fatigue & mood problems. Vacuum your house & wash your bedding regularly, especially if you have pets, as they can shed dander or track allergens in from outside. Use your air conditioner in the house & car rather than opening windows to avoid letting in allergens, & consider getting a HEPA air cleaner for your house to keep the air free of airborne offenders.
If you find yourself experiencing visible symptoms of inflammation such as itchy or red eyes/nose, swelling of the these areas or stuffy nose, you can try taking 1 aspirin per day to help fight inflammation. Of course you should consult your doctor first if you take other medications or have bleeding disorders. Aspirin can be harsh on the stomach so always take it with food & choose the buffered kind. Other anti-inflammatories include: ginger root, turmeric & ibuprofen. Avoid all of these if you take warfarin (Coumadin) or other blood thinners. Avoid taking sleep aids like melatonin since it tends to be present in excess during the spring, and go easy on all other sedatives & depressants including alcohol during this time.
If fatigue is your #1 symptom, try installing a daylight-colored bulb in your room to offset any light-related circadian problems. Go for a 6500k spectrum CFL bulb with no less than 42-watts of power (150-watt equivalent) & use it for 2-3 hours per day at the same time every day, preferably in the morning or afternoon. (Talk to your doctor first if you have bipolar disorder as these bulbs can sometimes cause mania or sleep problems in some people). Real sunlight exposure is fine too as long as you don't overdo it. For some people it can make them feel worse--I fall into this category. Make sure to put on sunscreen when exposed for more than 10 minutes. If sunlight makes you feel better, open your blinds & let it in all over your house! Free light therapy!
|Daylight Spectrum CFL Bulb|
Support your diet with a high-quality prenatal multivitamin and extra Vitamin D, especially if you don't get a lot of sunlight. And make sure you're drinking enough water every day to stay hydrated. Alcohol & caffeinated drinks don't count as water since they have a diuretic effect. Eat smaller meals & snacks more frequently to avoid 'food hangovers'--this one is extremely important for me. A big greasy mid-day meal is sure to knock you out if you suffer fatigue already. High-protein snacks like nuts, edamame, Greek yogurt & boiled eggs are much less likely to cause post-meal exhaustion than high carb foods like pasta or bread. And portion size is everything. Save your calories for the evening or night while keeping things light during the day.
I chose to write about this topic because it affects me personally. I often sleep up to 15 hours per day during the spring months, which results in horrific nightmares & a feeling of deep depression. If you are affected by this, just know that it's not all in your head & is a very real phenomenon. If all else fails, remind yourself that it's temporary & will pass soon. "Unto everything there is a season"...literally...
Do you have experience with springtime depression or fatigue? What have you found helpful or harmful? Please share in the comments below! I'd love to add it to my list of do's & don'ts.