SAD Season: Battling the Winter Blues

The trees’ red leaves began falling as the temperatures started to drop, and I suddenly found myself feeling completely dejected. I began to have trouble concentrating, had very low energy levels throughout the day and craved carbs at every hour. As such, I brushed it off as a seasonal funk—a casual case of “winter blues”—but when I suddenly lacked the motivation to engage in my passions, I knew there was a bigger problem.

Last year I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If the acronym is not obvious enough, SAD makes you feel really gloomy and unhappy. It is a type of depression associated with the changing seasons.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the specific causes are unknown. However, factors such as reduced amount of sunlight may contribute to its development, since the decrease in sunshine disrupts the body’s internal clock and triggers a drop in serotonin and melatonin levels.

Symptoms include lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, low energy, oversleeping, changes in appetite and weight gain.

The problem with SAD is that––like I initially did––most people dismiss it as a case of your typical funk, even though it is a legitimate type of depression that can lead to social withdrawal, anxiety disorders and difficulty in school and work. If you feel that your mood is taking a toll, consider these tips to help give it a boost:

  1. 1. Seek help

    The best decision I made last year was to find professional help. Notre Dame has a myriad of resources at students’ disposal, so do not be afraid to take  advantage of them. The University’s Counseling Center (UCC), located on the third floor of Saint Liam’s, is a good way to start. Make an appointment with a counselor and voice your concerns. With SAD, the only thing you should really brush off is the stigma surrounding mental health.

  2. 2. Bring on the light

    One of the greatest investments I have ever made was on a light therapy box. Essentially, it is a very bright lamp that simulates outdoor lighting. Light therapy or phototherapy has proven to be one of the most effective measures to treat SAD, since the exposure to bright lights can improve circadian cycles and alleviate symptoms. The UCC has a lamp in a room you can reserve, but if you want your own, a UCC psychiatrist can prescribe it or you can even buy it on Amazon.

  3. 3. Take your Vitamin D

    The body naturally produces Vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight, which is why it is known as the “sunshine vitamin.” Winter’s lack of sunlight can lead to Vitamin D deficiency, making you feel tired, upset and more vulnerable to sickness and infection. In order to combat this, you can buy Vitamin D pills in almost every drugstore.

  4. 4. Delight in some "me" time

    It is a universal reality that we college students are busy. Between job applications, homework, exams and extracurricular activities, it can be hard to pull some time away to do things we enjoy. However, it is important to take at least an hour of our day to do something that genuinely makes us happy. It really does not have to be a big thing; it can be just walking around the lake, taking pictures around campus, talking to friends, attending an interesting lecture, reading a non class-related book, having a DIY spa day...the possibilities are endless.

  5. 5. Work it out

    It’s definitely a cliche, but “a healthy brain belongs in a healthy body.” Exercising has proven not only to physically benefit the body, but also to ease depression symptoms, decrease stress, reduce anxiety and boost self-esteem.

  6. 6. Open up

    It is so hard to talk about our feelings. Most of the time, we are afraid of being judged or feel that we are just burdening others with our problems; yet, it is important to let these negative emotions out before they end up exploding. Talk to a friend, a professional, a professor, a family member, a rector––don’t bottle up all that negativity!

With the semester speedily coming to an end and the pressure of deadlines starting to creep in, the last thing you might want to do is to admit that you have a problem. However, you do not have to toughen up just to prove to yourself that you are strong enough––real strength comes from finding solutions! Do not let SAD’s gloom take away all the positive experiences you could be having instead.