bird feeding

It’s post vernal equinox. Are you feeling any symptoms of Spring Fever?

Spring Fever is an interesting term for a phenomenon or pseudo-illness. It seems to have entered English in the mid-1800s. Linguistically, it is interesting because it has two meanings which are opposites. There is the term contronym to describe words that are also antonyms. Examples include words such as cleave which can mean “to cling” or “to split”, and the verb “to dust” which can mean to remove dust (cleaning a house) or to add dust (dust a cake with powered sugar).

Similarly, “spring fever” means a sluggishness, apathy or inertia at this time after winter OR a renewed energy and freedom at the opportunity to get outside and be active again.

The negative feeling is related to that dormancy, as of a hibernating animal, that occurs for many of us in colder climates during winter. Like a bear coming out of hibernation, we are slow to get moving.

Other people associate this season change with a new-found energy after being confined mostly indoors for a few months. Time to start that spring cleaning, get back to exercising, start working on outdoor projects and get into the sun.

Temperatures usually fluctuate widely in springtime and when temperatures rise, blood pressure drops, since the blood vessels expand.

What about your eating habits? In winter, most of us tend to consume more calories, fat and carbohydrates than we do in summer.


Spring Peeper

On the positive side, it seems that most people take spring fever to mean an increase in energy. It is also associated with an increased sexual appetite which is probably also something we observed with animals in the wild who generally have their breeding periods now in order to give young the most time to develop before colder weather.

I have written about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and the kind of depression that can occur during the winter months. Scientists will avoid validating spring fever and say that we are labeling a behavior as a disease, but perhaps it is also a legitimate seasonal disorder (at least if it is taken in the negative sense).

Cabin fever is another term we started using in the early 1900s for a kind of claustrophobic reaction we have to be “trapped” inside with less to keep us busy for an extended period.

I happen to love cabins, so the thought of being in one seems quite pleasant. But that might change if I was snowed in for a month. You could get cabin fever in a country vacation cottage, but it can happen in a city apartment too. Ever notice how crowded your local park is on those first really warm and sunny spring days?

img-shiningCabin fever can cause people to sleep more and get irritable with anyone they are living with. The popular culture extreme of this is the character Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s novel The Shining, perhaps better known by the Jack Nicholson incarnation in the film adaptation of The Shining.  (The film antidote might be the song “Cabin Fever” from the Muppet Treasure Island.)

In German, they have the term frühjahrsmüdigkeit  which is literally translated as “spring tiredness”, so this is not an American phenomenon. The German versions is on the negative side being that temporary mood characterized by low energy levels.

I have my own unique version that hits me every spring when I feel a strong pull to get to the ocean. I partially identify this with Moby Dick‘s Ishmael and my cure includes a drive to the ocean (only about an hour away for me) and rereading Moby Dick.

If you live in the northern hemisphere, you might feel the disorder any time from mid-March to mid-April. Symptoms? Weariness (even if you are sleeping a lot), and a lack of drive and motivation, being overly sensitive to changes in the weather, some dizziness, irritability, headaches, and maybe aching joints are all reported.

Is there any science to all this? The causes most often noted are hormone imbalances.  One of the hormones that increases our happiness is serotonin, whose production depends on daylight, so the level may be lowered over the winter. Serotonin is the basis for many anti-depressant medications. The lowered serotonin might also allow melatonin, a hormone related to sleep,  to have its way with us. The longer days of of spring and summer allows more endorphin, testosterone and estrogen are released.  It has also been suggested that this seasonal readjustment of hormones stresses our bodies and we react with a feeling of tiredness.

What can you do to avoid cabin fever and the negative spring fever? Getting outside, being active and getting some sunlight (a half hour is enough) is the best starting place. Avoid taking any melatonin tablets for a while.  Eat less food and, as those hormones adjust, increase vitamins and proteins. Look at the cures for seasonal affective disorder and get happy.

Maybe rather than rereading Moby Dick, you can try reading Cabin Fever: Notes from a Part-Time Pioneer. It’s a humorous memoir and natural history of 25 summers of back-to-the-earth by William L. Sullivan about the log cabin he and his wife built by a river in the wilds of Oregon’s Coast Range.

You could also watch the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical State Fairwhere a love-sick lass sings, “Oh, why should I have spring fever, when it isn’t even spring?” She finds love. You might want to avoid the German theatrical production, Spring Awakening, which is an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind which was banned in Germany for some time due to its frank portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide. Yeah, it’s a musical story of teenagers discovering sexuality. Perhaps the American folk-rock musical Broadway adaptation is lighter.