[spring]In the past few weeks, our campus has been bathed in more sun than it’s seen in months. Even if it hasn’t made a noticeable difference in your mental health, many students will agree the campus has a renewed feeling, and passersby have a bigger spring in their step.
With this renewed feeling, many people are listening to music that they weren’t listenening to during other times of the year, tunes they link to the season.[amy5]
“It’s getting to be Weezer’s The Blue Album weather out again,” anthropology junior Laura Bell said. “Every spring I get the same feelings as I did my freshman year of high school when that CD was on repeat in my CD player. That feeling of knowing nothing matters but friends, being outdoors and good music.
“To quote ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower,’” she said, “’it’s that infinite feeling. I don’t know how else to describe it. Ah well, I’m just excited for it to be spring.’”
The idea that seasons can play a significant part in people’s moods is not a new concept. More specifically, light and music have long been associated with putting people in good or bad spirits.
In the first century, Aulus Cornelius Celsus, an encyclopedist and author of De Medicina argued to be one of the greatest Roman medical writers, said:
Live in rooms full of light
Avoid heavy food
Be moderate in the drinking of wine
Take massage, baths, exercise and gymnastics
Fight insomnia with gentle rocking or the sound of running water
Change surroundings and take long journeys
Strictly avoid frightening ideas
Indulge in cheerful conversation and amusements
Listen to music.

Sounds like good advice. Two centuries ago, light and music were among the advice for a healthy life, and the change in daily sunlight intake is one defining feature of the seasons.
Although to varying degrees, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, affects one to two percent of adults. Usually occurring in the winter months it’s also referred to as the “winter blues.” But women are two to four times as likely as men to experience it, Chris Larson, assistant professor of psychology and social science, said.
“About 10 percent of the population suffers from subsyndromal SAD, a milder version also known as ‘winter blues,'” Larson said.
[jenny]Dr. Michael Terman of the psychiatry department at Columbia University presented a much larger estimate of the disorder in a statement on the Center for Environmental Therapeutics Web site. He said, “as many as half the people in middle and extreme latitudes experience some discomfort that is associated with seasonal changes.”
Of these, a much smaller proportion (about five percent in the United States) will experience more severe symptoms, including depression, Terman stated.
Perhaps the numbers are difficult to estimate because people experience SAD to such varying degrees, and many may not examine their moods closely enough to notice the differences seasonal changes make.
International relations junior Ashleigh Burgess is one who has taken notice of her moods through the seasons. “Winter is good at first, with falling snow on branches,” she said. “Eventually, though, depression sets in and I want to see the sun.”
Burgess also notices how music, much like the amount of light in the seasons, can affect her moods. “Music is very mood-oriented and definitive for me, so specific songs and artists can invoke a lot of emotion, whether it be happiness or loss, sadness or excitement.”
Her mood dictates her music choices throughout the year. In the winter, Burgess finds herself listening to artists such Damien Rice, Joni Mitchell, Travis, Beck’s Sea Change and Oh, Inverted World by The Shins.
Fall is a time for Coldplay’s Parachutes, White Ladder by David Gray and Sweet Baby James by James Taylor, she said.
Burgess plays a lot of Ani DiFranco come summer, as well as The Black Keys, Jack Johnson, Sublime’s Greatest Hits, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Californication and Weezer’s The Blue Album.
And Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, Daft Punk’s Discovery and The Hard Lesson’s live EP are guaranteed mood-altering music for Burgess, any time of the year.
Lyman Briggs freshman Anna Wasson’s music choices also vary with the changing weather and daylight throughout the year.
“When fall comes, I get ‘mind-y,’ not moody; I suppose I become more grounded,” Wasson said. “I like to listen to Renaissance-era music during the fall — Celtic or English folk stuff. Live whistle music is fun to listen to at the Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly. Gryphon, a ’70s-era folk rock band, and Flook, a traditional Celtic band, have a ‘harvest time’ sound.”
Wasson said that as the weather gets chillier, she gets more manic, which is both a positive change and a negative one.
“I can be really productive, but I can also get sick with anxiety,” Wasson said. “When I get like this, I like to listen to Mozart. Mozart’s stuff is insane. I also have a CD with Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias, but Peter Serkin [the pianist] plays them too slow. I like to play them on the piano myself when I feel crazy — and I like to see how fast my fingers can fly!”
“When winter really sets in, and it’s cold and stark outside, a type of music that I think would be referred to as ‘Scandinavian symphonic prog’ is great to listen to,” Wasson said. “I think this is because Scandinavian folk music uses the minor keys a lot.”
This spring, Wasson said she’ll be trying out some 1970s progressive music.
“I’ve really clicked with it, she said. “Jethro Tull’s Songs from the Wood makes me think of forest clearings, flowers, mushrooms and Smurfs.”
As for summer, Wasson says she gets intense mood swings and always has to keep moving. [sarah5]
“For this reason I like ‘surface music,’ like Weird Al, VeggieTales and political satire stuff,” she said.
“There are two things that almost always make me feel chipper,” Wasson said, “sunshine and flutes. I feel so much better on sunnier days. Mid-Michigan is kind of bad in that respect.”
No one knows exactly why the seasons can be so mood-altering, Larson said. It could be a disruption in hormones like cortisol, secreted by the adrenal glands in response to any kind of physical or psychological stress. It may also have to do with retinal sensitivity to light, Larson added.
“Low winter temperatures may trigger the body to rest and disrupt circadian rhythms,” Larson said. As seasons change these circadian rhythms, close to our “internal clocks” can shift.
Seasons, then, may be having gradual jet lag effects on your body. Another likely cause of SAD is an increase of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone that can cause feelings of depression. The hormone is secreted at higher levels in the dark, according to the National Mental Health Association. Usually daylight triggers a slow in the hormone’s production, but those with SAD may still have too much, and are often treated with light therapy. Seasonal effects on moods will be greater with people prone to depression, and the seasons will be more likely to have a greater jet lag effect.
According to Larson, people who experience SAD to the greatest degrees are also those with conditions like panic disorder, social phobia and bulimia. Another common link to SAD is a disruption in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter strongly connected with mood and memory, which is triggered by the sun.
Larson said SAD rates begin to decline after age 50, when circadian rhythms also change, and by the age of 65 it is not particularly common.
But the connection between mood, music and memory seems very easy for college-age students to make.
“Music really depends with what time of the year you connect with it,” advertising junior Anthony Ciolino said.
Ciolino said Silverchair’s Diorama and Source Tags and Codes by Trail of Dead remind him of a past springtime, and so he gets in the mood to listen to them every spring.
“That’s the first time I listened to them a lot, and by listening to them, it was just a really happy time,” he said. “I had just gotten a new job, gotten over an ex-girlfriend, I was becoming closer with my friends, school was ending and my AP classes were over.”
Ciolino also links an artist’s mood and style with a certain season.
“Interpol’s album, Antics, actually came out the first day of fall last year, and it was so cold and miserable out,” he said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better day.”
Every year it seems like the Michigan winter will never break, but it’s spring once again. Get out your favorite lift-me-up music and step in to the sun. It’s bound to put you in a better mood.

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