“A Better Me” is a series that explores ways we can look inward and be the best version of ourselves we can be. Spring is the season for shaking off the winter doldrums and awakening to wonderful new possibilities. Learn how spring helps our health and happiness, and what we can do to get all the benefits the season has to offer.
Spring is a magical time. Just when we’re feeling fed up with shoveling, shivering, and super short days, the arrival of warmer weather beckons us out of hibernation, bringing an excitement to the air.
The sounds of children playing outside, losing the heaviness of that winter coat for a light jacket, seeing that first rainbow of plants ready for your garden — the season feels like it puts a literal spring in our step. After all, spring is about optimism, new life, and thinking about the future. But what exactly makes spring so special?
Anticipating spring is part of the fun
Spring is the perfect season to inspire a fresh mood and the perfect time to adopt some new habits for self-care and greater enjoyment. Founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and professor emerita of management at California State University, East Bay, Dr. Loretta Breuning says that part of the joy of spring can be found in just the anticipation alone. “Although prevailing wisdom says to be in the present, positive anticipation can make us feel good,” says Breuning, author of Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels.
So, when you have thoughts like, “What do I want to do this summer?” or you plan a vacation, those good feelings of the future, Breuning says, are great fun to cultivate. “Always give yourself something to look forward to and focus on something you have control over. Because if you focus on something you don’t have control of, like the weather, it may lead to disappointment,” she says.
There’s a wealth of research showing that time out in nature, time in green spaces — really, time outdoors in general — has been linked to better moods, lower stress levels, and a greater sense of optimism
Dr. Jonah Paquette
Why does spring make us feel good?
Clinical psychologist and author of Awestruck: How Embracing Wonder Can Make You Happier, Healthier, and More Connected, Dr. Jonah Paquette says that spring is beneficial for our mood, mental health, and overall sense of wellbeing. First, spring gives us a chance to get back outside. After frigid temperatures and wintry weather have caused us to just want to curl up and cocoon ourselves in our homes, spring tempts us back to nature, which is good for us on many levels.
“There’s a wealth of research showing that time out in nature, time in green spaces — really, time outdoors in general — has been linked to better moods, lower stress levels, and a greater sense of optimism,” Paquette explains.
He says there’s also a social component to spring. Holidays like Easter and Passover encourage family time, and warmer weather makes it easier to get together. “Research shows that the quality of our social connections is one of the most predictive factors for psychological well-being,” Paquette says. “And so anything that’s facilitating this and allows us to spend more time with people that we care about is a good thing.”
Breuning adds that oxytocin in our brain gives us the urge for social support. She sees small gift-giving as a good example of a way to nurture friendships — both long held and newly formed. “We get support by giving support, but if you give support to the wrong person and then they don’t reciprocate, you may get frustrated and give up,” she says. “So, give a tiny bit of support to a different person each day.”
Shake up spring with some variety
Warmer weather and milder temperatures make spring a great time to get outside and play. Whether it’s walking, biking, or returning to an outdoor sport, exercise is a natural mood booster, Paquette says. Spring is also the perfect time to bring up those levels of vitamin D, which requires the sun for absorption. This nutrient is important for our mental health, as it is linked to everything from mental clarity to increased energy, as well as bone health.
Even just going for a walk around the block can be greatly beneficial, particularly for those working from home. But Breuning says that some people struggle to get the full benefit of this practice. “As you’re walking the same path in the park, you may be replaying an upsetting incident in your mind instead of focusing on the environment around you. One thing I do is to try to find a different neighborhood to walk in every day. Variety stimulates dopamine, so the more variety, the better.”
6 activities to help you get into the swing of spring
Take the advice of Breuning and Paquette, and get out and enjoy spring. Here are six ways to experience the wonder of the season.
- Pack a picnic to catch up with a friend you haven’t seen all winter.
- Plan a road trip to a town you’ve never visited and explore on foot.
- Take a local history walking tour of your town.
- Find a lake to paddleboat or kayak around.
- Visit a farmers market or outdoor art festival.
- Try an outdoor workout, such as yoga or tai chi.