15 April 2011 ~ 10 Comments

Entering Spring with a Spring in Your Step or How to Banish the Springtime Blues

Today, I’d like to write about something that might be dubbed a distinctly Germanic concept: my old friend Frühjahrsmüdigkeit, which translates to “spring tiredness”. Whilst the rest of the world gushes about spring fever and looks forward to the advent of spring, a new lease of life and new beginnings, according to one article about 50 to 70 percent of Germans complain of spring tiredness. In fact, in a recent phone call to my gynaecologist complaining about how tired I’ve been feeling, she also brought up this (un)popular buzzword. I didn’t take it seriously though … that is until now.

As I have chronicled in my previous posts, my thyroid levels have been low for some months now as a result of me crashing after going off the birth control pill. I’m waiting for my hormone levels to readjust (I suspect that my sex hormones are still low, which is what might well be causing my low thyroid levels). Today, I dragged myself out of bed in a half-trance as part of my biweekly routine to see my personal trainer Dani. She told me how shit she was feeling, I did the same and we shared our condolences. Interestingly enough, Dani told me how many of her clients (even those without any apparent health problems) have been bitten by the spring bug and not in a good way – in the way that sends you running to your bed for an afternoon nap, knowing that if you chance it you may well sleep away the rest of the afternoon. I certainly know how that feels.

That got me thinking and made me wonder whether or not there really could be something to this springtime fatigue. Previously, I had shrugged it off as bunkum because the Germans are notorious among us expats for making up what are often deemed to be non-existent illnesses, such as the serious consequences of drafts or a Kreislaufzusammenbruch aka circulatory collapse. From reading these descriptions, one might think the Germans to be a nation of hypochondriacs, but I vowed to find out for myself whether or not Frühjahrsmüdigkeit exists and whether it could truly be hampering my efforts to feel energetic again. An afternoon of Googling ensued.

What I found was interesting and what interested me more is that there were also several English-speaking sites and blogs that discuss this phenomenon. Surprisingly, the “spring fever” entry in the English Wikipedia even devotes a few lines to the German phenomenon of Frühjahrsmüdigkeit. Spring fever is defined as “an increase in energy, vitality and particularly sexual appetite, often particularly strong in those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and thus experiencing lows during the winter months”. SAD is a syndrome to which we thyroidians are particularly prone – see my article on it here. Frühjahrsmüdigkeit, in contrast, appears to be the exact opposite: “a temporary mood typically characterized by a state of low energy and weariness experienced by many people in springtime. It is not in the category of a diagnosed illness, but rather a phenomenon thought to be initiated by a change in the season”. One German article describes it as “the hangover after our mini hibernation”.

Symptoms include tiredness, lack of drive, irritability, dizziness, headaches and sometimes achy joints. Some people also become more sensitive to weather changes, something for which spring is particularly notorious. Apparently, the advent of spring brings about a rise in our body temperature by a few tenths of a degree Celsius and our blood pressure drops as the blood vessels expand. Supposedly those with joint problems such as rheumatism and cardiovascular illnesses are particularly sensitive to this climate change.

The articles I read suggest that this phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the northern hemisphere between mid-March and mid-April because it is here that the length of days and nights and the temperature and light vary greatly throughout the year. Also, the time change appears to exacerbate the problem, probably in part because we suddenly have to get up an hour earlier, but also perhaps because the longer days entice us to stay up longer. Springtime may be the season of rebirth, but it’s also a season for adjustment. The root cause of spring tiredness is postulated to be hormone imbalance. Sound familiar? Of course, those of us who are already struggling to balance our hormones may be hit even harder by Frühjahrmüdigkeit as one hormone imbalance often begets another.

Short, dark winter days and long winter nights are ruled by the sleep hormone melatonin; the happy hormone seratonin barely gets a look in, which is why SAD sufferers end up feeling tired and sometimes depressed. Then along comes spring, longer days, shorter nights and more light and all of a sudden our body has to readjust to a different day and night rhythm, caused by an increase in serotonin, which is accompanied by a surge in the hormones endorphin, testosterone and oestrogen. Serotonin is depleted during winter and increases again in spring as we spend more time outside in the daylight. At the same time, our melatonin levels drop, but this hormone adjustment is rather gradual and not particularly regulated, so that our body becomes confused and stressed and for those of us who are already shit out of luck when it comes to balanced hormones, this process is probably even more stressful, which is ultimately where the tiredness comes in.

But the question is what can sufferers do to banish this syndrome and regain their get-up-and-go or vim and verve as the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz likes to put it? Various articles suggest adjusting your diet. In winter, people often crave carbs and fats, but in spring we need more fruit and veggies, as well as easily digestible, healthy proteins. A good quality multivitamin and possibly other supplements may also be helpful, particularly for those of us who are deficient anyway. Eating smaller meals more frequently can also help you to feel less weighed down and lethargic.

The second suggestion is to get up early and go to bed early to boost your serotonin and decrease your melatonin. Of course, you shouldn’t forget the importance of fresh air either. As mentioned above, sunlight produces serotonin, which is our vital energy booster in spring, but exercise, sport and regular walks can also help to energise us and accelerate the adjustment of our body to this new rhythm.

The third suggestion is a typically German one, but surprisingly one with which I grew up because it was my own father who was a fan of the good old German Wechseldusche. Prithee, tell what be this unusual ritual? you might ask. I shall be more than happy to reveal this Teutonic secret: some Germans like to start their showers hot and end them with alternating blasts of hot and cold water. It might have you hopping round on one leg screaming at the arctic temperatures, but it is allegedly very good for boosting your circulation. I’ve done it myself in the past, but it sure takes some self-control.

Another distinctly European ritual known to boost the circulation is the sauna. In fact, we Europeans occasionally have saunas in our own homes. I’ve heard it’s even more common in Scandinavian countries, but so far I’ve come across two saunas in German homes – one was in the home of my ex-boyfriend and one is in our very own bathroom. I’ll certainly miss that when we move to the States, as it’s a great way of warming up and detoxing during winter and throughout the year really.

Now that I think of it, I vaguely remember reading about “reverse SAD” when writing my previous article and I’m guessing this is what the author was referring to. In fact, I stand corrected – reverse SAD actually refers to the symptoms of SAD in summer, triggered by an extreme response to the body’s natural reaction to heat – are we ever free from the side effects of these seasonal fluctuations? I can’t remember a time when my body didn’t react to the change in seasons and naturally it’s tougher right now because my hormones are still struggling to adjust. I hear that there is more sunlight in New Jersey than Düsseldorf and so I eagerly await our move to NJ later this year … May I have fewer “seasonal issues” because the dark dreary winters here in Germany are freaking killing me and I can truly testify that spring tiredness isn’t an imaginary foe either.

As ever, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Does spring tiredness ring a bell for you? Do you suffer from seasonal fluctuations? Dish with me in the comments!

 

Sources

1.       English Wikipedia article on Spring Fever

2.       German Wikipedia article on Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

3.       German “Zeit” article on Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

4.       German “Focus” article on Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

5.       Life Through Reflections blog post on Spring Tiredness

6.       Bridget of Arabia blog post on Reverse SAD

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