Seasonal Mood Changes
Spring is coming, a season that some call “mania season”. Even those without mood disorders often feel a rush of energy and hopefulness as the days finally start to get longer, and the temperatures go up. Many of our bipolar patients find that their mood swings follow a predictable pattern: for the majority, “up” in the spring and “down” in the fall; although there is a substantial minority who experience it the other way around.
It’s the time of year to watch yourself for signs of hypomania or the first stirrings of a full-blown manic episode. Each person is unique, and each person typically can identify the early signs of oncoming mania which form a recognizable pattern. Those signs may be sleeping less, feeling more irritable, spending more, drinking more or keeping busier than usual. However, some people don’t perceive such signs themselves, but rather rely on close others, family or other contacts, to become aware of them.
Light length changes rapidly
At the time of the Spring and Fall equinoxes, March and September, the length of day and night changes rapidly, almost every day shows a perceptible change in light length. This change in light/dark acts upon the human circadian cycle and causes a sense of disruption and change. Added to this are changes that are more related to modern life, such as the use of Daylight Savings Time, and the fact that most northern hemisphere dwellers live in buildings that are fairly well insulated, so that rising temperatures mean going outside more often, which also results in a rise in light exposure.
Self-knowledge is one of the most important tools in the living creatively toolkit. Are you one who tends to mania in the spring or fall? How does it manifest in your own experience? When do you typically feel the first “cues”? Some people identify a season-linked mood change as starting about two weeks before the time change, or a couple of weeks after, or… what is your schedule?
Your answers to the above questions will lead naturally to the next set of questions: what to do about it? Do you need to pay more attention to sleep patterns at this time of year? Do you need special reminders to “slow down” or to get outside in the morning? Many people have found that the use of blue-blocking glasses are particularly helpful during the spring when daylight duration is increasing. Some may even need to discuss a change in medication for the season.
You are not alone if you are sensing a seasonal pattern to your mood swings. Observe yourself. Check in with loved ones and colleagues for what they have noticed. Consult with a physician or therapist if you are concerned about any of the changes you find. Don’t try to be stoical, help is available!