With the first snow hitting campus last week, winter is definitely on its way. However, the change in seasons and the disappearance of the sun can spell trouble for some students.
With the cold weather comes Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, or seasonal depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD usually occurs during winter as the daylight hours are reduced, thus causing a chemical imbalance in the hypothalamus.
Reduced amounts of sunlight cause your brain to drop in its levels of serotonin production, which is theorized to trigger depression. The changing of seasons may also affect your melatonin levels, which control your body’s sleep patterns and mood.
SAD is a very common disorder, affecting more than 3 million people in the United States per year. It is more common around areas further from the equator, as people living in those parts of the world often have longer and colder winters than those people living closer to the equator. SAD is also very easy to diagnose.
Counseling and Wellness counselor David Wier explained. “Symptoms of SAD include a desire to oversleep or a difficulty staying awake and in some cases disturbed sleep, feeling fatigued, a craving for carbohydrates or sweet foods, feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem, sometimes hopelessness, apathy, or loss of feelings, irritability or desire to avoid social contact, and tension or increased sensitivity to stress,” he said.
There are ways to treat SAD. One of the most common ways is through light therapy. “Light therapy consists of exposure to a specialized light, one designed to mimic the effects of natural sunlight. You allow the light to hit your eyes indirectly to help correct the biochemical imbalance that causes SAD,” Wier says.
Since reduced amounts of sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin levels in your brain, exposure to light has shown to be helpful in combating SAD. The Counseling and Wellness center has a sunroom designed for light therapy that students can use for free and with no scheduled appointment.
SAD can also be treated by medication, Vitamin D supplements and regular therapy. Medications, like Selective Serotonin. Reuptake Inhibitors such as Zoloft or Celexa, may be prescribed if symptoms are worse enough that light therapy may not help it.
We are usually exposed to Vitamin D through sunlight, but as winter starts and the days shorten, it’s often not possible to get as much Vitamin D as we need. Vitamin D supplements are easily found in most pharmacies. Therapy is an excellent way to combat SAD and its symptoms.
The Counseling and Wellness center also has regular counseling appointments for students wanting to talk about their possible symptoms, and create strategies to cope and overcome those symptoms. Wier recommends students who have been struggling to seek help.
“Make an appointment at the Counseling and Wellness Center to explore what you’ve been feeling. Utilize the sunroom to correct any potential biochemical imbalances. Be intentional to spend more time outside while its daylight, despite the cold,” he says.
If students are concerned about their friends, they can also speak to an RA and discuss how to proceed.
A beneficial aspect of SAD is that its symptoms usually disappear when we are exposed to sunlight, and the seasons get warmer, so it most often doesn’t develop into a full depression.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, contact the Counseling and Wellness center to set up an appointment in order to discuss symptoms and developing coping strategies. They are open from Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and their phone number is (989) 463-7225.