Is Spring Fever For Real?
Every year, millions of Americans go to work on a sunny spring day and find themselves looking out of the window, longing to be outside and enjoying the warm weather. We call this phenomenon “spring fever”, but is there really such a condition? Two University of North Carolina medical professionals believe that it is.
Spring fever is a term that describes the physical and psychological symptoms associated with the ending of winter and the coming of spring. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn said, “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!”
Biologically, it refers to an increase in energy, vitality, and sexual appetite that arises from mid-March to mid-April. Scientists believe that hormones play a role, particularly the increase in serotonin, whose production depends on daylight and is known for bringing feelings of well-being and the decrease in melatonin, responsible for feelings of sleepiness. The body also adjusts levels of endorphins, testosterone and estrogen in the spring.
Those with seasonal affective disorder, who feel low moods and lack of energy in winter, and those in the northern hemisphere are often affected the most. “We know from studies of big populations of people that the incidence of depression goes up in the fall and winter,” says Dr. Thomas Koonce, associate medical director at the UNC Family Medicine Center. “And we think that that's affected mostly by decreased sunlight hours.”
Other factors are also thought to play a role, including warm, but not too hot, temperatures and diet. During the spring, the days are warm but the nights remain cool. People are better able to get outdoors in the spring, not only for formal types of exercise, but also for fun – flying kites, taking bike rides, swimming, etc. Physical activity is a mood-booster, with some studies finding it to be just as good as medications for depression.
In the winter, most people consume more calories, fat and carbohydrates. They may also eat fewer fruits and vegetables, as fewer are in season in the colder months. But in the summer, we tend to eat lighter foods with more vitamins and proteins.
So can you call in sick to work today? Per Dr. Jon Abramowitz, professor and associate chair of psychology at the University of North Carolina, it is not an official medical condition. However, it probably is worth taking a day off now and again to lift the mood, relieve stress, and ultimately make you more productive in your work.