There’s a German Word for Unbearable Seasonal Malaise

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Why you should care

Because knowing it exists is half the battle.

Part of an occasional series on unusual words we wish we had in English. Read others here.

The trees are waking up, the sun is out, the birds are singing. Finally, finally, after a long winter, it’s time to do something, everything. You know it’s time. It’s definitely time. Time to pull up the covers, watch every episode of Riverdale and contemplate what’s wrong with you that you can’t be like the trees, the birds, the sun and wake up for spring. 

You’re not alone! Philip Larkin wrote about this in “The Trees”: “The trees are coming into leaf … their greenness is a kind of grief.” Less poetically, as I was complaining that a Parisian cafe didn’t have enough nap couches, drinking my ninth espresso of the day, a German friend explained that her native language has a word for this.

Frühjahrsmüdigkeit means “springtime fatigue.”

It’s a peculiar spring malaise that leaves you mopey and depressed right when everything around you is exploding with colors and light and happiness. 

Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is connected to “spring fever,” explains Dr. John Sharp, author of The Emotional Calendar. You see, spring has multiple phases, and before the full-blown version arrives, when the world (and your cells) are just waking up, you have a lot of energy but your brain isn’t always sure what to do with it. “People think they’re gonna be motivated and happy and feel better — and it turns out that’s true, once spring gets established,” Sharp says. But in the meantime, spring fever sufferers feel agitated, while those with Frühjahrsmüdigkeit feel depleted.

There’s a scientific basis for those feelings. While Larkin never offers an answer in his poem, blood tests can: Spring brings with it a measurable increase in cellular metabolism, according to Sharp, as well as emotional discombobulation. That early-spring malaise may even contribute to April’s position as peak suicide month worldwide. In some ways, Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is similar to seasonal affective disorder — and its counterpart, reverse SAD, where long hot summers drive you mad. But those are location-specific, with cases increasing in North America the further from the equator you get. Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is found pretty much everywhere, though the exact dates vary depending on the weather fluctuations in your location.

So now you can put a name to it. Is there a cure? Mostly it seems to be not to do anything drastic while letting spring take its course. Just naming your feelings and realizing they’re natural can be very powerful, Sharp says. It may take a minute, but spring eventually happens inside of us as well as on the avenues, and we begin, as Larkin wrote, “afresh, afresh, afresh.”

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