For some folks the sounds of spring is not that of a songbird, a babbling brook or the wind in the trees. For many, it is more closely aligned with a sneeze, a cough and a sniffle.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 20 million adults and 6.1 million children suffer with seasonal allergies. And, as news reports tell us, allergy season seems to begin earlier with each passing year and stretch out longer. And with this annual news comes the reminder of the usual remedies of over-the-counter medicines from antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, eye drops and saline rinses.
There is no question that this is a newsworthy issue that affects the quality of life of a great number of people. It can be an especially troubling time for asthma sufferers whose condition is often worsened during the season. Yet there is another health message of spring that also needs be heard among the headlines — perhaps now more than ever. One that I believe is sadly missing.
I was recently reminded of this by an essay by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness. Allan notes how the spring season through the ages has been viewed as one of the most profound of seasons. That we should not dismiss or take its healing and restorative power for granted. That it is a season of hope, of the emergence from darkness. Ancient religious traditions have evolved around the meaning of the spring season.
There are two days a year when the daytime and nighttime hours are approximately equal. The Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere is known as the official bringer of spring. The other is the Autumnal Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. Both have strong ties to ancient and modern religious celebrations.
The Easter holiday we know is the principal holy day of Christianity. It is a time to remember a central story and beliefs of Christianity. It has come to be a symbol of hope, renewal, new life and resurrection. Even images such as the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs, when we look closer, are infused with a deeper meaning. The rabbit was seen as a symbol of abundance. The egg served as a representation of new life, of spiritual regeneration.
Says Allan, noticing and celebrating what's happening with the springtime, with warming temperature, the animals and nature in general can help us be more centered and connected. Research also suggests that the extended daylight that comes with the spring season boosts mood, well-being and energy. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with attention, motivation, pleasure and mood seems to increase with more exposure to sunlight. Spring cleaning is also seen as a valuable time for us to clear out clutter from our homes and lives and bring in the new. Focusing on the season can in turn help us anchor ourselves in time and place.
As an old proverb once proclaimed, "No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow." And it couldn't come at a better time.
Today, more Americans than ever before are stressed, depressed and anxiety-ridden, according to a recent study that included national health data from a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Judith Weissman, lead author of the study and research manager in the department of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center, the economic turmoil caused by the Great Recession that began in late 2007, struck at the heart of the American dream, rattling some folks to their core. This stress-filled time has caused long-term emotional damage to many Americans that persists today.
"There's a newfound high-risk group: middle-aged adults," Weissman recently explained to CNN. "That's adults from about the age of 45 to 59 in the U.S., who previously had not been thought to be at high risk for mental illness or suicide, and now we're finding that they are."
Studies have shown that optimists tend to become ill less often, recovering from illness more quickly than others, and to live longer lives than their more pessimistic counterparts. Springtime has always been a time of change; a time of hope. And psychologists know that hope is a gateway to human happiness. It's time we rediscover hope, our faith and our sense of optimism if we are to change the path we are now on and re-charge our health and wellbeing.
"Spring can signify new beginnings," says Dr. Edward F. Mackey, the director of the Mind-Body Institute of Applied Psychophysiology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. "One hour to spring ahead, at some subconscious level, may signify moving forward, not stagnant, [but] out front and pulling away."
In spring, let yourself break out of the cocoon, Allan reminds us. It is a time to open the windows, to get outside, to plant something, to fly a kite or ride a bike, to have a picnic.
We've endured the darkness and need to play, he says.
It's an idea worth dwelling upon.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.