How to Make it Through Winter with Seasonal Depression

It’s finally beginning to feel like fall, which means apple cider, cooler temperatures, Thanksgiving meals and the impending winter season. The days of snow and cuddling up with your boo while watching Hallmark movies are on the mind’s of everyone. As the temperatures lower and sunlight dims, many young adults will likely suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder and a type of depression that has both “fall-onset” and “summer-onset” classifications. Fall-onset is the most common, because the days shorten, leaving us with less sunlight. The lack of Vitamin D and lower serotonin and dopamine levels can leave us feeling fatigued, sleeping excessively, having lower energy, a loss of interest in activities, and a general feeling of sadness and gloominess. Here’s some tips on how to ease the symptoms of seasonal depression.

Take a Cold(er) Shower

When I start to feel depressed, I tend to take a shower. There’s something about feeling clean and refreshed that makes me feel better about myself. However, taking a hot shower and spending 45 minutes standing there overthinking does no good for your mood. Try getting in with the water as warm as you like, then switching it to cold water to rinse the conditioner out of your hair and rinse your face. After that you can switch it back to warm water for a minute or two before you get out of the shower, so you’re not shivering. This way, you’re warm and comfy and relaxed, but the cold water wakes you up to help you get in a better, more productive mood.

Go Outside

Brave the cold and partake in some winter activities. Go for a brisk walk mid-day when it’s sunny so you’re getting fresh air, exercise and as much sunlight as possible. This will help with your Vitamin D levels and endorphins. You can also go to the gym and do a light workout - the increase in endorphins directly affects your mood. Personally, I love the gyms on campus because of the floor to ceiling windows. There’s so much sunlight pouring into the room that it almost makes you feel like you’re outside, just warmer. If you do stay outside, don’t forget to bundle up!

Take Vitamin D Supplements

A main cause of SAD is the lack of Vitamin D that your body is receiving, because of the lack of sunlight. Try picking up a bottle of Vitamin D Supplements at the local grocery store and taking the recommended dose all winter long, or as mentioned before, spending as much time as possible outside in the sunlight. This way, you’re body won’t suffer from a deprivation of a vitamin that so heavily influences your mood.

Make a Plan

Make a to-do list either per day or per week. The feeling of accomplishment when you check something off will leave you feeling productive and proud of yourself, helping you be more self confident. Include small things - such as drinking a certain amount of water, finishing homework, eating three meals a day, mailing a letter, or responding to an email. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; if you make it out of bed and eat something one day, that’s still something to be proud of.

Talk to Someone

An often taboo response to feelings of depression is counseling. People think it’s “not that bad,” as if depression can be gauged on importance. Often, people are afraid to talk to someone, viewing it as being weak and vulnerable. Therapists help everyone in different ways; some not at all. You shouldn’t block out this option because of fear or anxiety. If you go once and hate it, you never have to go back, and they won’t reach out to you. If you don’t want to talk in person, there are plenty of hotlines and texting services available to you at no cost. An often overlooked resource is Mason’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Online Self-Help. Therapist Assisted Online (TAO) is a “FREE strictly confidential interactive web-based program that provides 24/7 self-help resources and support to the Mason community.” There are modules and activities for you to do at your own leisure, including help for anxiety, relationships and mindfulness. My favorite part about TAO is the app - I can do the modules in bed, on the shuttle, or waiting for class to start.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is most common in women and young adults. You shouldn’t ignore those “winter blues.” They may be common, but they aren’t something you should “just deal with” until the summer. Your mind may be on the stress of finals and dreaming of winter break, but make sure to take some time for your mental and physical health, too. Talk to your friends about how they’re feeling, check up on your “strong friends” and help make mental health care a less taboo subject. And remember, if you begin to feel like these symptoms are interrupting your everyday life or presenting a danger to yourself, the best thing to do is to reach out - you don’t have to suffer in silence.

George Mason University Counseling and Psychological Services

Suicide Prevention Line - 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line - Text 741-741

CrisisLink - 703-527-4077

Mason Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence Crisis Line - 703-380-1434