While the shortest day of the year is behind us, winter is far from over. With that in mind, some people may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
One common misconception about SAD is that it’s just the “winter blues," people feeling bummed because of the weather; however, SAD is much more than that. People with SAD suffer from a seasonal pattern of depression, meaning they experience depression at a particular part of the year, but are otherwise symptom free the rest of the year.
Symptoms of SAD may include, but are not limited to:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of interest in normal activities
- Weight gain or loss
- Increased sleep
- Sluggish movements
Winter-onset SAD is thought to be linked to shorter daylight hours and darker days. Our bodies respond to sunlight by changing hormonal and neurotransmitter levels, so seasonal changes can often lead to chemical imbalances that are out of our control. For instance, in the winter, reduced sunlight can disrupt melatonin levels (a hormone that helps us sleep).
Treatment for SAD in the winter is often centered on increasing exposure to sunlight. Some tactics include:
- Going for a walk or spending time outside during the day is a good way to soak up sun and vitamin D.
- Arranging your living space to maximize sunlight—open those blinds!
- Participating in light therapy, a form of SAD treatment that involves sitting in a specialized light box to help you increase your exposure to sunlight (requires medical supervision).
While simple light therapy proves effective for some, it’s not enough for everyone. Some people may require additional treatments including daily exercise, medications or therapy.
If you or a friend are struggling with symptoms of SAD, consider taking a depression screening. Campus resources such as Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) are here to help. CAPS provides a variety of workshops and group therapy sessions, as well as individual counseling. If you’re not sure about what you’re feeling, consider Let’s Talk, a free and informal consultation service for students.