Hello, Spring Asthenia: Recognizing and Coping with Seasonal Depression

While seasonal affective disorder (SAD) typically sets in as the colder weather begins, depression related to the arrival of spring — called spring asthenia — can also occur.

Spring asthenia, also referred to as spring fatigue or lethargy, is a relatively new term that describes feelings of depression and fatigue that begin just as the weather starts to warm.

While the term is not in the DSM-5-TR (the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States), spring asthenia is generally understood to be “reverse seasonal affective disorder,” or reverse SAD, according to licensed psychologist and the owner of the Mental Health Matters Beth Sherman, PsyD.

“While SAD is known to begin when the hours of sunlight dwindle and abate in spring as we gain more time with the sun, spring asthenia begins with the onset of spring and lasts until fall, when the cooler weather begins,” Sherman tells Healthnews.

The unofficial diagnosis has not been thoroughly researched and has not technically been scientifically proven, yet a large number of people report similar symptoms at this exact time of year.

Due to the lack of research, the cause of spring asthenia isn’t clear. One theory, Sherman says, is that it is tied to seasonal allergies. Some studies have found that allergies contribute to seasonal depression in the spring and summer, but they don’t fully explain it.

“It could be that the unconscious expectation is to feel better with the nicer weather,” Sherman says. “Seeing everyone else emerging from their homes, socializing, having fun, may serve to highlight what is missing in their life and create a depressive episode.”

How to know if you have spring asthenia

Seasonal depression is frequently marked by fatigue, lack of motivation, losing weight, sleeping more, and appetite changes, Sherman says. But there has to be a clear connection between the depressive symptoms and the seasons for it to be considered spring asthenia.

Depression with a seasonal pattern requires two major depressive episodes in the last two years that demonstrate a clear tie to the change of seasons, with full remission in the “off” seasons, she explains.

The seasonal major depressive episodes need to substantially outnumber the nonseasonal major depressive episodes that may have occurred over the individual’s lifetime. And if there’s a clear reason for a depressive episode during the season, such as being laid off at that time of year, it does not count as a depression that is caused by the season.

The symptoms associated with spring asthenia are also the same as those of many other illnesses, which can make it difficult to identify accurately.

“I always recommend an evaluation by a mental health provider in order to rule out other diagnoses that spring asthenia could be mistaken for, as well as a visit to the primary care doctor,” Sherman. “It’s important to rule out any physical issues, such as a sluggish thyroid or nutritional deficiencies that are often mistaken for depression.”

How to manage spring asthenia

Often, when individuals experience depression, they feel the desire to both slowdown and isolate, Sherman says. But while this is a natural reaction, it’s also the least helpful — as it will only serve to deepen the depression.

“The best antidote is to do the opposite — daily exercise, get out of the home, and interact with others,” she says. “While this may not feel enjoyable, it’s critical to continue with these activities to prevent the depression from worsening. If getting out helps decrease the symptoms, that’s an added bonus.”

While most people will wait until they feel motivated to do the things that help alleviate the depressive symptoms, that may take weeks or months, and people should instead take action despite how they feel.

“It is the action itself that brings on the motivation,” Sherman says. “It feels counterintuitive, but you have to do the very things you are unmotivated to do to actually create the motivation to do them.”

But Sherman says consulting with a professional is the best place to start if you think you may be suffering from spring asthenia. They will be able to create an individualized plan based on your unique symptoms and other factors that play into seasonal depression.

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