Feeling Blue Under Grey Skies

You wake up and it's dark outside.

You go home and it's dark outside.

This is winter in Seattle, and if you're not from Seattle, this change hits harder than the cold air that's hurting your face.

You may have heard of people here catching the infamous "SAD" bug, but what exactly is it?

 

What is SAD?

SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is a form of clinical depression that comes and goes depending on the season. Symptoms become the most noticeable during winter and beings and ends at about the same time every year. You find your energy levels dropping as the days become shorter. You consider yourself to be "normal" in energy levels during the Spring and Summer, but find yourself less social during the colder months. 

 

Causes

Researchers do not know exactly what causes SAD, but they are definitely sure it is a very real condition. Yes, it has a silly acronym, but those who suffer from SAD have symptoms as serious as other forms of depression and should not be taken lightly.

By now, we're probably all aware that our skies are constantly gray, like the sun is playing hide-and-go-seek with us and we're all very bad at this game. With the sun hiding, there comes a lack of Vitamin D, which prevents a part of our brain, the hypothalamus, from working properly. Researchers believe that with the hypothalamus not functioning as well, this causes issues with our circadian rhythm, or our natural internal 24-hour clock.

This disorder also seems to be more common in women than men, so gender may be a factor. 

 

Symptoms

SAD symptoms may vary from person to person. They could 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

As you can see, the symptoms are similar to other forms of depression, with the only difference being when the symptoms surface. Diagnoses are often made after experiencing these symptoms two to three cycles of winter seasons. Having SAD is different than just wanting to curl up in bed more and binging Netflix shows. It is important to not try to diagnose yourself with SAD because it is a very real condition—check in with an experienced professional.

 

Treatments

If you feel like you might be getting SAD, here are some ways to help you feel a bit more uplifted throughout the winter months:

1. Get a Light Box

Yes, I am aware that this sounds silly and not productive at all, but light therapy boxes give off light that mimics the sun. The bulbs are brighter than normal light. Try sitting in front of the light box for about 30 minutes a day. It has found to be most effective right when you get up in the morning. It has been found that 60 to 80 percent of people see improvements in their symptoms by sitting in front of their light box.

 

2. Exercise

Whether it's taking a hike at Rattlesnake or running on the Burke Gilman trails, exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your body that helps with this disorder. Research has found that it is the frequency of exercising rather than duration that helps the most. If you prefer to exercise indoors, make use of the IMA! Your pay $25 a month for the IMA from your tuition anyway, so might as well make the most out of it. The IMA offers fun classes like kick-boxing and zumba and is a great way to get out of your apartment.

 

3. Consider Supplements

Try adding Vitamin D Supplements to your daily routine. First be sure to check with your doctor what your Vitamin D levels are at. Adding the supplement to your diet will not only possibly help you cope with SAD, but it can also be beneficial for your bones and immune system. If Vitamin D supplements are not helping, consider antidepressants. Avoid ones that make you sleepy and seek prescriptions from a doctor before symptoms get worse.

 

4. Aromatherapy

Essential oils can influence areas in the brain that control mood. Try adding a few drops to your bath or buy an aromatherapy infuser for your room.

 

5. Mind-Body Connection

Try relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or music therapy. Not only can these help your SAD symptoms, but they can also help you de-stress as midterms come upon us.

 

6. Let Sunshine In

It sounds simple, but simply taking advantage of the sunshine whenever it appears is very helpful. Although it's rare in Seattle, try taking a walk outside whenever you see the sun come out. Even sitting outside, bundled up of course, when sunshine leaks through can be a nice way to destress. Also try keeping the blinds in your home open so that as much natural light as possible can get in.

 

7. Stick to a Schedule

Having a daily routine may help ease symptoms. Since people affected by this disorder often have trouble sleeping, maintaining a schedule may improve these symptoms. Try to also eat at regular times to help maintain your diet, as many people with SAD experience weight gain during the winter months.

 

8. Keep a Journal

Writing is often considered a good self-therapy. Simply writing down your feelings helps you take some weight off your shoulders and get negative feelings out of your system. It is recommended to write a night so you can reflect on everything that happened throughout the day.

 

9. Talk it Out

Consider doing psychotherapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help people change unhealthy habits of thinking and feeling. This type of therapy can teach people life-long skills that help them cope not only when they are experiencing SAD, but any stressful times in their lives. 

 

10. Reach Out

Simply talking to your friends and family about this can be the most effective. Depression can make you feel isolated, but remember that you are not alone. 

 

If your symptoms get worse, please consider making an appointment with your doctor for professional advice.

If you or someone you know ever feel like harming themselves, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK.

Remember to take time for yourself because you are worth it and deserve the best.