Psychiatrist Sharp (Harvard Medical School) provides a guide to understanding how seasons, events and anniversaries work together to affect human emotions.
In simple, concise language, the author examines how seasonal changes, along with environmental factors—light and dark, hot and cold, wind and storms—can impact moods and behavior. He grounds his argument in the fact that human physiology is highly sensitive to the physical world. Even the smallest variations in external conditions affect everything from the respiratory system to blood pressure to hormone secretions. Sharp also suggests that culturally ingrained seasonal expectations—renewal (spring), relaxation (summer), work (fall) and darkness/death (winter)—can aggravate or enhance the physiological changes brought about by the environment. Further complicating how an individual feels on a given day or during a particular period are memories from years past of that same day or period. Through carefully delineated case studies, the author shows how events or anniversaries on the cultural calendar (from the beginning of the baseball season to the first day of school to the Christmas holidays) or on a more personal one (birthdays, wedding anniversaries, death dates) can become especially fraught times. These external and internal influences combine to create what Sharp calls “emotional calendars,” which, unlike paper calendars, are unique to each person. To find the inner balance necessary for mental and physical well-being, individuals must understand how external conditions, working alone or in tandem with event-memories, can create “emotional hotspots” in a given year and lead to negative or positive patterns of behavior over time. Sharp’s great strength is his genuine concern with moving beyond definitions and fostering awareness in readers about their own emotional calendars. However, while he provides useful “emotional hotspot” coping strategies, he does not do so in the same illustrative detail that characterizes other parts of his argument. Nonetheless, Sharp offers an interesting and original way to think about the underpinnings of psychological health.
Perceptive and useful.