The springtime shift: Unexpected challenges and opportunities

Spring is officially here - even if the weather doesn’t always conform. The days are getting milder and lengthening, the daffodils are giving way to tulips and tree blossom, the bumblebees and butterflies are reappearing, the birds are in full song, and people are beginning to emerge from their homes and wintery attire as they look ahead to what this season might bring…


It is now well accepted the winter blues felt by many due to the seasonal shift from autumn to winter and, for some, this means enduring the debilitating SAD (seasonal affective disorder) during the darkest months of the year.

Yet you might be surprised to learn that studies have shown springtime is also when suicide rates, mania and other mental health challenges peak. Or you might be reassured that the feelings of frustration and anxiety surrounding a dip in your mental health, including deepening depression, at this time of year is justified.

So why is this? Why when many are celebrating the changes in the seasons to lighter evenings and warmer sunnier days enhancing their moods, are others experiencing very real and frightening negative impacts on their mental health?

Circadian rhythms 

Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles seen in both animals and plants that have been shaped over the millennia in response to their environment due to the Earth’s predictable night and day changes. For us, our circadian rhythm is part of the body’s internal clock and is vital for many important functions including our sleep patterns, core body temperature, metabolism, immune system, cognitive functions, and bodily processes. 

In most adults and adolescents, this body clock operates on a cycle that is a little over 24 hours, which means our bodies must regularly adjust this difference by up to - 18 minutes each day to maintain cyclicality with the world’s rotation. To do this we therefore need environmental cues known as ‘zeitgebers’ (German for ‘timekeepers’) to help us, e.g. daily routines, meal times, recognising periods of light and dark, and social interactions. 

British summer time

At this time of year, our circadian rhythms are changing with the increasing day lengths as well as the intensity of light, which means there is an impact on our sleep cycles, energy levels and mood. On top of this, in Britain, we also still upkeep the tradition of changing our timekeeping to maximise daylight hours and, in springtime, this means the clocks ‘spring forwards’ by one hour to beckon in the summer. 

These changes to our circadian rhythms are thought to be one of the main reasons why there is a peak in mental health challenges because whilst we are grappling to adjust our bodily functions - which we’ve already learnt are varied and significant for our optimum health and wellbeing - our routines and expectations often also alter at this time of year too…

Springtime shift

As we progress into spring it is often associated with spending more time outdoors, increasing our activity levels, altering our lifestyle patterns with the lighter evenings, participating in new or different hobbies, and changing our social interactions. However this adjustment can take time for our minds and bodies to fully engage with, and for some can mean a worsening in anxieties and stress due to the growing changes and feelings of vulnerability or overwhelm as we navigate different routines.  

In parallel to this, often there can be an expectation to feel happier simply because it is spring, or an expectation to be more physically active, or an expectation to socialise more, or an expectation to be outdoors more due to the longer lighter days. However such expectations and external pressures can have a negative effect on our moods and mental health, causing dysfunction and anxieties, aggravating existing health conditions, and exacerbating inner conflicts and feelings of turmoil when saying ‘no’ or finding the energy can be too much. 

Seasonal self-care

Recognising what is in and out of our control can help with these seasonal changes and challenges. For example, we might not be able to halt the extension of daylight hours or other’s responses to this, yet we can control how we choose to cope with these changes and possible expectations:

  • We can alter our routines at a pace obtainable to our unique selves. 
  • We can practice saying ‘no’ and building healthy behaviours and boundaries in our lives. 
  • We can pay attention to our routines and try to give ourselves the best food/sleep/exercise options we can. 
  • We can be kind to ourselves and listen to our needs, such as taking time to rest or sitting with our emotions, whatever form that be. 
  • We can learn to create self-care habits that work for us, from sitting with a cup of tea in the sunshine, to a taking bubble bath, to a morning jog, to binging on our favourite boxset, to cooking our favourite meal. 

With the springtime shift, there might be unexpected challenges as well as opportunities to learn more about ourselves, and each other, and how our responses to the changing seasons can be both in and out of our control.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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St. Austell PL26 & Bodmin PL30
Written by Ysella Wood, Member of BACP ~ Dip.Couns ~ Golowhe Therapy
St. Austell PL26 & Bodmin PL30

Ysella (also known as Izzey) is a counsellor and ecotherapist located in mid-Cornwall. She has a private practice called Golowhe Therapy working with individuals (young people, teens, adults) and groups, and offers the use of nature and the outdoors to support the therapeutic relationship, such as through ecotherapy and ‘walk and talk’ sessions.

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