At the time of writing, it is really sunny outside my window. Words cannot express how thrilling a development this is. After an exceptionally overcast and snowy winter, seeing blue skies and sunshine is quite honestly giving me the kind of energy and mood boost for which I would normally have to speedrun three cups of brewed coffee. All of this can only mean one thing: spring has sprung.
Today is the official start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. True, any Canadian worth their salt understands that an aberrant balmy stretch as early in the year as this one constitutes a fool’s spring, and is not to be trusted. But even the smallest taste of warmer days to come seems to awaken something brighter and more optimistic within us — even a cynical curmudgeon such as myself.
This spring-induced vibe shift got me wondering about how else the changing seasons might impact us. Since ancient times, cultures around the globe have celebrated the arrival of spring as a season of new beginnings. There’s just something about this time of year that lifts us up, makes us feel rejuvenated.
What gives spring its magical powers, and how can you make the most of this season? In today’s newsletter, we’re looking into the behavioral research to find out.
Until next time,
Katie and the spring-heads @ TDL *Addendum: At time of finalizing newsletter content, it was no longer sunny
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Today’s topics 👀
🧪 The Science of Spring
🚶 Wellness on the Go
🌸 Making the Most of the Season
🧪 The Science of Spring
+ Science confirms: spring makes us happy.Research has indeed found that moods improve as temperatures warm. This time of year, we tend to get outside more, which helps us regulate our emotions and boosts our desire to seek out social interaction.
+ Spring is also good for your physical health. Vitamin D from the sun isn’t just helpful for your mood: it improves bone health, too. Spending time outdoors can also reduce our cortisol levels, muscle tension, and resting heart rate, all of which protects us from cardiovascular disease.
+ We’re wired for springtime. One possible reason why spring makes us feel so good has to do with our circadian rhythms. At this time of year, we’re exposed to daylight in patterns that closely sync up with our bodies’ natural 24-hour cycles. This “entrainment” (as it’s known in the biz) facilitates basic processes, notably sleep.
+ It might be a trick of perception. Around the start of spring, days rapidly start to get longer: right now, we’re adding about four minutes of daylight every single day. These changes come on so fast that they’re easily noticeable to us, which might amplify their effects on our mood. (The rate at which days change length evens out around the solstice, before days start to shrink again.)
🍁 FIELD NOTES: Wellness on the go
The changing seasons are just one of many factors that can cause big shifts in our mindset and mental well-being. Sometimes, those changes are pretty easy to spot (as is the case with the present author and the arrival of spring). But others can be a lot more subtle, and tricky to identify in the moments when they’re operating on us.
Regularly tracking the way you feel makes it possible to see patterns that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious. After helping to coordinate a major redesign of the Wellness Together Canada platform(an initiative funded by the Government of Canada), TDL joined them in a new challenge: building a companion app, PocketWell.Read the case studyto learn about our process, and how it was informed by emerging research on digital mental health.
🌸 Making the Most of the Season
How can you capitalize on the many benefits of spring? Here are a few evidence-based tips.
Go touch some grass. As established above, sunshine and time outdoors both confer major health benefits. But the inverse is also true: during this time of yours, spending more time indoors is correlated with a decrease in well-being. All the more reason to get outside. As the weather warms, try to make a point of taking a walk before and after work, or maybe during your lunch break.
Plan to actually do some spring cleaning. Spring brings a sense of renewal and gets us excited for new beginnings. Why not capitalize on that motivation to clean? It might feel trite, but research (and the sprawling oeuvre of Marie Kondo) has shown that clutter has a negative effect on our mental health — so if the spirit of springtime has you actually feeling excited about the prospect of a little deep cleaning, you should seize that opportunity. Block off some time to get into the Cleaning Zone, soundtracked by your favorite music or podcast.
Kickstart your exercise routine. We probably don’t have to tell you that movement is good for your physical and mental health (or that winter tends to put a dent in our exercise habits). As the days warm up, now is a great time to get back into the habit of moving around. Unstructured physical activity, like going for a walk or doing a little yoga in the park, lets you enjoy the health benefits of exercise — even if something like going to the gym feels daunting or overwhelming.
Research has found that mood increases with time spent outdoors during the spring — but it also decreases when we stay cooped up inside. Source: Keller, M. C., Fredrickson, B. L., Ybarra, O., Côté, S., Johnson, K., Mikels, J., Conway, A., & Wager, T. (2005). A warm heart and a clear head. Psychological Science, 16(9), 724-731. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01602.x
The transition to spring is highly salient (i.e. noticeable) to us because of how fast it happens. They might inflate its effect on our psychology. Read more about salience bias on the TDL website.
Opportunities in behaviour science
TDL is hiring! We’re hiring for a number of positions, both remote and based in our Montreal office. Some open roles include: