Words Jihan Seoud and Alia Fawaz
Hurray, it’s finally spring! Gone are the cold days and early darkness, as we welcome flowers blooming, birds tweeting, and longer hours of daylight. In fact, we seem to have gained even more light in the evening, as our clocks were turned forward on March 27th. So, all this lightness should make us pretty happy beings, right? Okay, so perhaps it feels a bit strange having dinner at 8:00 p.m., when it feels as if it’s still 7:00 p.m., or you’re not sleepy when your watch says 11:00 p.m., because to your body and brain it’s still 10:00 p.m. Most people will be back in the swing of things in a few days.
However, for people who suffer from bipolar disorder, this seasonal change seems to have an adverse effect. It brings on bipolar elevated mood or hypomania, as they can become sensitive to the amounts of daylight that they receive. According to experts in psychology, the extra daylight, the end of winter’s gloomy days, and the experience of being outdoors again in the bright, fresh, spring air all contribute to triggering bipolar neurochemistry.
Don’t be SAD
Not everyone with bipolar disorder is vulnerable to mood episodes that coincide with the seasons, typically known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but for those who are, the typical pattern is depression that recurs in winter and hypomania or mania in springtime or summer. Doctors identify three common warning signs that indicate spring mania or hypomania: sleep irregularity, rapid speech, and physical hyperactivity. Those with severe symptoms of bipolar disorder may become dysfunctional without the aid of therapy and medication. However, there are others who have seasonal hypomania, exhibiting symptoms similar to those of bipolar disorder, but in a much milder form.
Blame our ancestors
In fact, the evolutionary origin of bipolar disorder suggests that it has Arctic origins dating back to our early ancestors: hibernation during the cold winter months and manic productivity during the short warm season. Recent studies demonstrate that seasonal mood is a gene adaptation remnant from our ancestors, especially those who lived in the Northern Hemisphere. Bipolar behavior may have actually helped early mankind overcome the long, extreme winters. After the harsh winter people, would literally spring into action and do as many things as possible during the shorter warm and sunnier season. This is why perhaps in spring we feel happy and show more symptoms that are associated with hypomania.
In Lebanon SAD is not uncommon, but it is not as pronounced as it is in Nordic countries such as Norway. But come wintertime there is a trend among those who suffer from bipolar disorder. Elio Sassine, a Lebanese psychiatrist, explains that “the serotonin levels are affected in spring when the period of daylight is longer.” This translates into less sleep and more energy in general. The additional sunlight also tells our bodies to produce less melatonin, a main ingredient in putting the brain to sleep. Sassine notes that hypomania in spring is actually more pronounced among females. He says: “People in spring feel more elated, become more active, and have more sex, which again has roots in our genealogy. In winter on the other hand, depression is more common and the need to sleep is more.”
Clearly there is something about spring that affects all of us, whether we want to blame our ancestors or the extra hours of sunlight. Whatever it does to us, spring is definitely a time to rejoice, be active, and enjoy nature to the fullest. Don’t let the spring blues get the best of you, and if spring becomes overwhelming, take the appropriate steps and take care of yourself. Remember, spring is a time for new beginnings.
Fever! in the morning
Fever all through the night
Everybody’s got the fever
That is something you all know
Fever isn’t such a new thing
Fever started long ago…