SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder and How it Might Have Affected Your Winter Quarter

Winter quarter here at UCSB was a tough one for me, and I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one. Most people I talked to last quarter seemed to feel the same way. We felt especially tired, moody, and not up for many activities or going out. It seemed impossible to find motivation even in the smallest of tasks, and I found myself getting in bed at the end of my days to watch Netflix and tune out the rest of the world. It didn’t help that I was in one of the most stressful classes of my life last quarter, but that was just me.

In the fall and winter months, we lose a lot of sunlight and the days are shorter. This winter in particular was extremely cold, wet and stormy (as in, we had actual thunderstorms!). Usually I’d be excited when this kind of weather rolls through because back home it was pretty rare, however this lasted for weeks on end and I was tired of it. No one knew how to dress or prepare; we packed for SoCal not Oregon! I dreaded going outside, especially for a night class because I’d have to face the freezing cold or possibly be rained on again. It felt like we were attending school on the east coast, not “sunny Santa Barbara”.

Because of this gloomy weather, tough classes, and low energy I felt more down than usual last quarter. I had a few personal reasons that contributed to this feeling as well, but in general most people tend to feel more lethargic and a little sad in the winter months. There’s a name for this, and it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (how clever). This is actually a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons, and can range in severity. Symptoms for most people tend to start in the fall and remain throughout the winter months, and they can include:

 

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Having low energy

  • Having problems with sleeping

  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

  • Feeling sluggish or agitated

  • Having difficulty concentrating

  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

 

If you felt quite a few of these symptoms last quarter, you may have been suffering from SAD. I related to most of them, especially having low energy, problems with sleeping, feeling sluggish and agitated, losing interest in activities, and eating more food. I found myself staying up super late, and then oversleeping or waking up multiple times a night. I even took NAPS, and trust me I am not a nap person. I didn’t feel motivated or have enough energy to get work done, but eventually I would just force myself to do it. It wasn’t a good feeling and I’m sure a few of you could relate. Another source added in “a craving for carbohydrates” to their list of symptoms, and I don’t think I can relate to something more. Although, I always crave carbs…so maybe that’s a separate problem. #carbsforlife #carbsaremysoulmate

Image via Workit Health

SAD can be caused by a few factors such as your biological clock. Because of the reduced sunlight in fall and winter, your body’s internal clock might be disrupted which can lead to feelings of depression. Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in Serotonin (a brain chemical that affects mood), leading to less feelings of well-being or happiness. Lastly, the change in season can increase your melatonin levels (because of the increase in darkness), thus causing people to feel sleepier. There’s a few ways to help feelings of SAD such as medication, light therapy, and vitamin D and usually these can ease symptoms until winter is over if you’re really struggling.

I think I was truly affected by SAD last quarter and felt completely drained after finals (I know I’m not the only one), but I’m hoping now that it’s spring quarter and the sun is shining, I’ll have an overall better mood and more energy. It’s only been one day but I can already tell that everyone’s mood is elevated and everything feels warmer. People are wearing cute spring outfits, birds are chirping, and flowers are blooming. I’m sure that my friends and I will be going out much more with all the spring activities happening and beach days to come, and I honestly can’t wait.

Happy spring and goodbye SAD winter!