by Thanos Nioplias, LMHC
After a long winter of social distancing, isolation and several rounds of quarantine, the spring of 2021 has finally sprung! For many, spring and the warm weather that comes with it offer unique opportunities to set new goals, change unhelpful habits, and engage in new projects and hobbies. This is particularly the case today, having faced a cold winter with increased loneliness, no hugs or family gatherings, no movie theaters or concerts, and restricted routines.
Notwithstanding current stressors, there are clear biological effects of winter’s short days and low temperatures on our mood. There are also practical barriers to the things we can pursue. All of these factors make many of us more susceptible to depression and anxiety. After all, clinical depression has two central characteristics: (1) it takes away people’s ability to experience pleasure and joy (what therapists in clinical terms call “anhedonia”), and (2) it negatively influences people’s self-esteem, often leading to negative beliefs such as “I’m not good enough”, “Nothing in my life seems to work out”. Both a sense of enjoyment, and mastery, are negatively impacted by shorter days, colder temperatures, and inclement weather.
Spring, on the other hand, with its longer days and warmer temperatures, is the best time of the year to wholeheartedly pursue the antidotes to the depressive symptoms of anhedonia and low self-esteem described above. This year in particular, let’s take the opportunity by implementing three small changes:
First, the most effective way to respond to a lack of engagement and pleasure is simply to start planning activities that could bring about an increase in positive emotions. If you’re not “feeling” excited at first, don’t worry: Action precedes motivation. Walking, hiking, visiting a new neighborhood in your own city, picking up an old hobby, spending more time with friends or trying to make new connections are just a few examples of ways we can invest more in accumulating positive emotions.
Second, building a sense of mastery is an equally important anti-depressant. Building mastery means doing activities and tasks that increase our sense of confidence. Learning a new skill, taking on additional responsibilities at work, picking up a new hobby, or working out to make our bodies feel strong and healthy, are all effective ways to try to develop a sense of mastery.
Third, spring is not only an opportunity to pursue pleasure and mastery, but a time to cultivate mindfulness, self-awareness and forming a better understanding of how our feelings and bodily sensations operate. It is important to pay attention to how the current season change affects our moods and body, with a curious and non-judgmental attitude. Indeed, for some individuals, symptoms of anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress may in some cases follow a seasonal pattern and could increase during the warmer months. For others, humidity and heat could prompt migraines, allergies and chronic pain flare-ups. To these ends, Spring is a time to validate any emotional and physical pain, and begin to establish new habits to live a happier and more connected life.