What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and What Can You Do About It?

Lots of changes occur this time of year: the leaves are falling, exams are coming up, and temperatures are dropping. You might also notice some changes to your mood during the cold winter months. Some people wave these feelings off as inevitable “winter blues.” But the truth is that persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and low energy during the winter months could be a part of a larger diagnosis: Seasonal Affective Disorder — or SAD for short. The good news is you do not have to deal with these feelings alone. There are steps you can take to make the winter months easier.

 

But first, what is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of depression associated with changing seasons. It most commonly occurs in late fall and early winter— though in some cases, it may appear in the spring and summer months. SAD is caused by changes in your biological rhythms and decreased exposure to sunlight. For students, the pressure of exams and other responsibilities that tend to pile up this time of year may also be a cause. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms may include:

  • Emotional Changes: Feeling depressed most of the day; recurring feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness; reoccurring thoughts of death or suicide.

  • Physical Changes: Having low energy; difficulty sleeping and/or waking up; changes in appetite.

  • Social Changes: Losing interest in hobbies and social activities; difficulty concentrating; feeling easily agitated.

For college students, these symptoms might manifest by sleeping in, skipping classes, or losing motivation to do homework. It’s easy to see how this can affect your academics. Thus begins a dangerous cycle of feeling bad, performing poorly, and feeling worse.

 

What can you do if you have SAD?

If you are feeling the effects of seasonal depression, It’s important to realize that there is no reason you should have to ‘just deal with it’ or ‘toughen it out.’ There are steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms. One example is to invest in light therapy, which is a specific kind of light that mimics the natural sunlight that we’re missing. Practicing self-care is another great way to reduce symptoms. This can include regular exercise (especially outdoors), meditation, practicing stress management, and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. If you’re still struggling to feel happy, you should consider attending counseling or asking your doctor about medication. 

Here on campus, the MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services is a great place to start if you’re struggling with negative feelings. Even talking with your friends or family members about how you feel can help reduce symptoms. Above all, remember that you are not alone, and things will get better. 

 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255