After experiencing months of short, dark, and cold days, many of us are welcoming this spring weather with open arms. It’s hard to find anyone unenthusiastic about the change in seasons. The longer, warmer days just seem to make us feel better, which could be due to some of the lesser known effects of spring weather.
While most people get tired of the winter months, sometimes more serious side effects can occur. Being forced inside due to the cold and dark conditions presented by winter can cause something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The likely causes of SAD include an imbalance in the biological clock (circadian rhythm), an imbalance in serotonin levels, an imbalance in melatonin levels, or any combination of the three. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for mood, and melatonin is a chemical in the brain that is released to induce sleep.
When spring weather rolls around, people are given a much longer and more enjoyable opportunity to spend time outside. The new weather and ability to be outside allows the brain’s natural rhythms and levels to return to normal, resolving many of the negative effects brought on by winter. Being out in the spring weather and relieving oneself momentarily of daily worries and hassles can boost creativity, reduce stress, promote clearer thought, and increase the ability to pay attention.
A study from the University of Michigan in 2004 found that people that were outside for about thirty minutes found themselves in happier moods. Later on, in 2014 a second study produced by the same university stated that being outside could reduce stress and create a better mindset. The same study found the outdoors in nice climates spurred improved memory and a broadened cognitive ability, which may actually be connected to more creative thinking.
Studying outside can even induce better retention of information. Getting your work done outside promotes neurological responses that can create a deeper understanding of material and even allow more readily available recognition of that material. Contrary to popular belief, taking regular mental breaks and scheduling room for downtime can lead to personal growth and academic success. Downtime gives people the opportunity to think about themselves and their lives introspectively, as well as better understand and connect new things that they have learned either in the classroom or on their own. In fact, temporarily disengaging from a difficult or lengthy assignment is believed to restore prefrontal brain circuits, portions of the brains related with higher level thinking.