Don’t Get SAD This Midterm Season

It’s midterm week. Yay.  As the weather gets colder and darker and academic pressures grow, it’s important to be aware of the effects that a whole week of testing could have on your mental health.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a subset of depression that features depressive episodes that fluctuate with the seasons. Typically, this means a depressive episode begins around late fall or early winter, and lasts until spring or early summer.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM), symptoms of depression include: “feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day; feeling hopeless or worthless; having low energy; losing interest in activities you once enjoyed; having problems with sleep; experiencing changes in your appetite or weight; feeling sluggish or agitated; having difficulty concentrating; [and] having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.”

For SAD during fall and winter, NIHM lists these symptoms: “having low energy; [sleeping more often than usual]; overeating; weight gain; craving carbohydrates; [and] social withdraw (feel like ‘hibernating’).”

Seek immediate aid if a depressed mood turns into thoughts of death or suicide. Counseling Services has walk-in hours Monday through Friday. On weekdays after 5:00 or on weekends, call Campus Security at 717-361-1111 to speak to the counselor on call.

If you are experiencing SAD, it’s recommended that you seek medical aid. You may be prescribed medication or therapy to help with your symptoms temporarily. Besides seeking medical help, you can do a few things by yourself to avoid depression or anxiety based around SAD and the increased academic pressures this time of year.

Some studies have found taking vitamin D  is effective for combating SAD, although other studies have rebutted this. Since vitamin D is primarily taken in from diet and sunlight, it can also help to just get outside and go for a walk. That’s an oft-suggested “home remedy” of sorts for depression, and it’s by no means a cure-all. However, it may help with some symptoms if done regularly.

Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to rest and have fun with friends, or sleep in one day. You’re not going to be able to do anything if you’re exhausted from staring at your textbooks 24 hours straight. Try to keep to a consistent sleep schedule. Minimize or avoid alcohol consumption. While imbibing may feel good in the moment, it may result in increased depressive symptoms later.

If you find yourself becoming particularly anxious regarding schoolwork, you can try catastrophizing. This is a psychotherapeutic technique used by some therapists that involves running through the absolute worst-case scenario and rationalizing how bad it would really be. For example, what’s the worst that could happen if you fail that exam? Maybe you decide to drop the class, or keep it, but know your GPA is going to take a hit. How much is that really going to affect you in the grand scheme of things? Are you still going to graduate college? Are you going to survive this? The answer is likely yes.

A few factors may put an individual at greater risk of developing SAD. Women are diagnosed with SAD four more times as often as men. A family history of depression also provides an indication of the likelihood of developing SAD. People with other mood disorders, like major depression or bipolar disorder, are at greater risk of being diagnosed with SAD.

An exact cause of SAD is unknown, but there are a few factors that seem to be relevant. One of these is a lack of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates mood. People with SAD may have less available serotonin, leading to a depressed state. This lack of serotonin is also believed to be an important factor in other forms of clinical depression.

The hormone melatonin may have an impact. Melatonin is commonly used as a sleep aid, but people with SAD may overproduce melatonin, resulting feelings of sleepiness and lethargy. In addition to this, the lack of sunlight over the winter months may result in less Vitamin D production. Vitamin D is believed to be related to the regulation of serotonin and low levels are tied with clinical depression.

Always seek aid from a physician in the event of a depressed mood. If this mood turns into thoughts of death or suicide, contact help immediately. Campus Security’s emergency services can be reached at 717-361-1111.