Spring Fever: The Lethargy Which Many Suffer at this Time of the Year

Today is the Vernal Equinox. This astronomical event has been celebrated for thousands of years because in the northern hemisphere it marks the beginning of spring and is one of only two days in the calendar when the lengths of the day and night are equal. (The term equinox meaning ‘equal night’.) This is a season of cosmic renewal. It signals the end of the earth’s ‘dead’ season, when the countryside suddenly bursts into resplendent life. Buds appear on the bushes and trees. The fields display their embroidered carpet of wild flowers, and the birds begin their mating calls. But the rejuvenation of the biosphere doesn’t always provide an equal boost for the naked ape. While new born lambs skip and jump, and March hares gambol, the human animal often sinks into a state of lethargy known as ‘Spring Fever’, a malady that dictionaries describe as the listlessness that people often feel with the rapid arrival of hotter weather. The major symptoms of this complaint are irritability, lack of drive, mild headaches and persistent weariness. Germans call this syndrome fruhjahrsmudigkeit, which literally translated means ‘spring tiredness’ . My Auntie Ethel suffered from this malaise every year, and like others of her generation was convinced that her problems arose because the sudden blossoming of leaves on trees and shrubs soaked up so much oxygen from the air that she was left in a state of mild anoxia. This subject receives no mention in medical textbooks, but is thought to arise when an increase in environmental temperature leads to a sudden expansion of the vast network of blood vessels in the skin. Since nature abhors a vacuum, more blood is needed to fill the dilated plexus of blood vessel. Initially this increased volume can only be supplied by drawing fluids from elsewhere in the body. This means that until fresh blood corpuscles can be manufactured, there must be a temporary decrease in the concentration of red blood cells. Since these cells are responsible for transporting oxygen around the body, there may well be some substance in the old belief that springtime fatigue is due to a ‘thinning’ of the blood.
Springtime also heralds a number of important hormonal changes, some of which are related to the increased length of the day, which stimulates the activity of the pineal gland. Gradually there is an increase in the levels of sex hormones

and also of serotonin, the ‘happiness hormone’. This increases the sexual activity of most creatures. Birds normally breed only in the spring, but some have been induced to produce a second batch of eggs in the winter by exposing them to repeated doses of artificial light. Things work differently for us, for contrary to popular belief, human libido appears to be stronger in the autumn than in the spring. This was shown by a massive seven-year survey of over a million births carried out by health authorities in New York City. This revealed that most babies are conceived in the autumn, rather than the spring, which proved to be the slackest time of the year for human conceptions. So maybe we should revise our old idea that it’s in the spring that young men lightly turn their thoughts to love. At that time they may be

so exhausted that the best they can do is post a ‘see you soon’ message on Friends Reunited. However, while many of us may be a trifle enervated by the arrival of the warm weather, it’s a propitious time for DIY retailers, since its appears to boost the nesting urge of many home owners, who feel a primordial urge to embark on a round of spring cleaning and general household improvements. Market reports show that at this time of the year the sale of paints and household cleaners rises by as much as a fifth.

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