We are experiencing a change of seasons here in the Pacific North West. A few mornings ago, I saw the first sign, a covering of dew on grass that has been as dry as dust for five months. It’s a welcome change for the earth, since the trees and gardens have been craving moisture.
We humans too, can’t help but react. There’s a mild feeling of excitement as we anticipate the events that arrive with winter—more connections with family and friends, more social events, indoor activities like cozying up to the fire, reading new books, going to movies, and of course, Christmas.
There’s also a feeling of sadness. Autumn has always been associated with nostalgia and regret. There’s something poignant about the drawing in of days, and the lengthening of nights. It seems we have more time to think and reflect.
I remember studying ‘To a Young Child‘ in an English class long ago, about the transiency of time, exemplified by the seasonal image of falling leaves. It was written in 1880 by Gerard Manley Hopkins in the archaic language of the era, the emotion resonating in spite of the rarified phrasing:
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
It is said that in this poem, Hopkins is recognizing the loss of a child’s innocence, grieving for times past, and mourning his own mortality.
Like Hopkins, we come face to face with decay and change in autumn. Even when most days are sunny and warm, we can feel the cooler evenings, and see the changes in the landscape around us. We know that soon we will feel the full force of colder, wetter weather.
Many people suffer unrest and anxiety during the change of seasons. In some of us, our moods are negatively influenced by less daylight and colder weather. Older people may experience a dip in their immune system. They may dread the approaching time of discomfort that winter brings, and some may actually become ill with a cold.
In an article, Max D. Gray (OneHowTo) discusses seasonal affective disorder, emotional distress, depression, and the anxiety that some people suffer as the temperature drops, and dusk comes earlier. He suggests these symptoms are real, and if they persist, should be discussed with your doctor.
Another study, published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that the functioning of our brain is significantly affected by the seasons.
For this research, 28 Belgian adults agreed to spend four-and-a-half days in a lab, completely sheltered from sunshine and the outside world. Their brains were then scanned while they completed two tasks—one requiring sustained attention, and another using their working memory.
The study showed that brain activity peaked on the attention tasks in the summer, while significantly less brain activity was required in the winter for these same tasks. On the memory task, the opposite was true—brain activity peaked in autumn and hit a low in spring.
So, it appears that the brain is more active in the summer when attention tasks are being performed, whereas in the fall, memory recall can be accomplished with less brain activity.
Dr. Gilles Vandewalle, the neuroscientist who led the study, says:
Even though we live in an artificial environment with light cycles that are no longer seasonal, we have the programming in our brains to respond to seasonality.
As well, some of us might be familiar with changes in metabolism as seasons change, resulting in weight gain during winter. It’s evident that the immune system, the activity of our genes, and even the way we perceive colors can be affected by seasonal change.
We may not like all of the effects that occur as a result of the shifting of the seasons. But change is inevitable. Seasons will change whether you are happy about it or not. You can choose to dread the oncoming winter season, or embrace it. Here are some reasons, suggested by Katherine Pilnick (Wallstreet Insanity), to welcome any seasonal change:
Change leads to Opportunities and Experiences
Change Leads To Progress.
Change Ensures Life Stays Interesting.
Change Ensures That Bad Situations Can’t Last Forever.
Change Documents The Passage Of Time
Change Is Inevitable.
I like Katherine Pilnick’s take on seasonal change. I think I’ll go with her, and put Gerard Manley Hopkins back on the shelf!