Theoretically, spring is now upon us. I’ve already started to see robins, who I trust to tell me the season more than I do the calendar, and there have been a couple of days so far when it was almost warm enough to go outside without a jacket. Unfortunately, though, I live in a part of the country where spring takes its sweet time to arrive (and then usually turns straight into summer without much of a transition at all), so the majority of days still don’t really feel like it yet, though it at least seems like it’s trying. The beginning of spring is by far the most frustrating time of the year, at least for me, because it feels like it should be time for the cold to be gone already, but it’s just not. The weather teases us by being wonderfully pleasant for a day or so, just long enough to get our hopes up, and then it goes right back to being cold and wintry for another week. And somehow, it’s exhausting. The Germans seem to understand this draining effect the springtime can have, and have given it a name: Frühjahrsmüdigkeit.
Interestingly, the feeling is something of a cultural phenomenon; although well-known in Germany, and a handful of other countries as well, it proves difficult to explain in English. It differs from what we might call “spring fever”, which is excitement and restlessness driven by the warmer weather. It’s also not quite “cabin fever”, the frustration you start to feel from being cooped up inside for a long time, for example during a long winter. Nor is it anything as dire as seasonal depression. Rather, Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is when you’re just… tired. Sluggish. Worn out. And the only reason is that it’s springtime. There’s an interesting distinction to make when dissecting this word, because German has two subtly different words for “spring”: Frühjahr and Frühling. Frühling is generally used to mean the season, which starts in March and ends in June, and carries suggestions of positive things like warmer weather, blooming flowers, and blossoming trees. Frühjahr, on the other hand, refers more to the time of year, the transitional period between winter and summer; it literally translates as “early year”, and includes the less pleasant days when the weather is warmer but not warm enough, when it’s rainy or windy or maybe even still snowing, and when we’d all rather just stay inside curled up under a blanket. Frühjahrsmüdigkeit, then, is not so much a side effect of the spring as it is of the springtime.
The seasons, and the times in between them, can affect us in profound ways. In Germany, Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is such a common and widespread affliction that it can be used as an excuse for poor performance at work or school, and the media treats it like a scientific phenomenon and offers tips on how to deal with it. And even though no such word exists in English, we’re not immune to the effect of the seasons, either. In the English-speaking world, although there are of course some people who experience it in the spring, seasonal fatigue is quite common in the winter and autumn. But the influence of the seasons isn’t all negative — they’re just as capable of inspiring positive emotions and reactions as well. Spring is dreary and joyful; summer is stifling and exciting; autumn is melancholy and beautiful; winter is bleak and peaceful. Their dual nature is reflected in us. So whether this time of year brings you spring fever or Frühjahrsmüdigkeit, it’s a sign that spring is undoubtedly here, with all that it entails. The weather might be deceiving, but the robins don’t lie.