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Wellness > Mental Health

Tips For Preparing For Seasonal Depression As A College Student

I’ll say it: I love school. I absolutely love college, spending time with my friends, and going out, and I truly enjoy learning. For the first semester, this comes pretty easily to me. However, the first couple of months during the second semester (and beyond) are always a major adjustment, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to seasonal depression. 

Seasonal Depression, also commonly referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a type of depression related to the change of seasons. Seasonal depression impacts college students across the globe: A study conducted by using The Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire and the Beck Depression Inventory found that 13.2% of the surveyed students experience seasonal depression each year.

While I wish I could tell you how to get rid of your seasonal depression, that’s something I, and many others are not capable of doing. However, David Tzall, PsyD. has some tips on preparing for seasonal depression as a college student — because your mental health comes first, always.

There Are Key Differences Between Depression And Seasonal Depression. 

If you have depression but find yourself dealing with your seasonal depression differently, you might be a bit confused. While depression and seasonal depression do share many common symptoms, Tzall notes that there are some key differences between the two. 

“The most significant difference is the seasonal pattern,” Tzall tells Her Campus. “Seasonal depression follows a predictable pattern, with symptoms occurring during specific seasons, typically fall and winter and improving or disappearing during other seasons. In contrast, regular depression is not tied to any specific season.” 

If you often feel unmotivated or “down” during the colder months, understanding that those are feelings associated with seasonal depression vs. depression is helpful. Tzall explains that, “Seasonal depression typically begins and ends around the same time each year, coinciding with the change in seasons,” while depression “doesn’t follow this same pattern and can occur at any time.” 

Seasonal Depression Can Look Widely Different For Everybody. 

While seasonal depression is different for everyone, there are a few key signs to look out for if you, or a friend, is struggling. “They might notice a significant decrease in their overall mood and energy levels and feel down, sad, or even hopeless,” Tzall tells Her Campus. 

Additionally, seasonal depression can impact your motivation — especially when it comes to the small things like making your bed and heading to class. “A common symptom of seasonal depression is losing interest in activities that a person usually enjoys, including hobbies, socializing, and academic pursuits,” Tzall says. Additionally, Tzall explains how seasonal depression can impact cognitive function, “making it hard for students to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions effectively which can lead to poor academic performance.”

Tzall also explains that changes in appetite, isolation from family and friends, and lack of motivation are also symptoms. Tzall explains, “ Changes in appetite and eating patterns are common, like having cravings for carbohydrates or sugary foods. Students with seasonal depression might isolate themselves from friends, family, and social activities. They might feel less motivated to interact with others.”

The triggers for seasonal depression also vary. “Starting a new semester or experiencing a shift in routine can be challenging for those prone to seasonal depression. The demands of college coursework, exams, and assignments can contribute to increased stress during the colder months” Tzall tells Her Campus.

Recognizing these symptoms, especially as a college student, is important. Having an answer to feelings of no motivation or unknown sadness can make understanding and working through seasonal depression easier. 

Preparing For Seasonal Depression Is Your Go-To 

While preparing for seasonal depression can be difficult, Tzall emphasizes that doing so can have a positive impact on your well-being. “Connecting with friends, family, and mental health professionals who provide emotional support and understanding during difficult times is necessary and helpful,” Tzall tells Her Campus. 

Additionally, Tzall recommends establishing a routine to help manage your seasonal depression. “Maintaining a regular daily routine, including consistent sleep and meal times, can help stabilize mood and energy levels. It is vital to prioritize self-care and engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation,” Tzall says. 

Seasonal depression is also commonly associated with reduced exposure to natural sunlight. If a lack of natural sunlight is something you are worried about, Tzall has some suggestions. “ Light therapy is a specific treatment often used for seasonal depression due to its connection to reduced sunlight exposure. While it might have some benefits for regular depression, it’s not typically a primary treatment.”

Other suggestions from Tzall include exercise and practicing mindfulness and meditation. “Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety. If you have a history of seasonal depression or are already experiencing symptoms, consider seeking counseling services on campus or in your community. Talking to a mental health professional can provide coping strategies and emotional support” Tzall tells Her Campus. 

And, of course, it’s essential to know that help is available. “If you have a history of seasonal depression or are already experiencing symptoms, consider seeking counseling services on campus or in your community. Talking to a mental health professional can provide coping strategies and emotional support” Tzall explains. 

Finding what works for you is what is most important. Go for a walk, practice mindfulness, spend time with your friends, whatever it may be — just know that you are never alone in this journey, and you have some expert advice to help you out if you ever need it. 

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

Eileen is a senior at Fairfield University who is studying Communications with minors in English, Professional Writing, and Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies. She has a passion for magazine writing and hopes to pursue a career in the field. Eileen is the Entertainment & Culture Intern at Her Campus where she covers all things pop culture, entertainment, and internet trends. Eileen was formerly a National Writer for Her Campus from April 2023 - January 2024. Eileen is one of the Campus Correspondents (CCs) at Her Campus' Fairfield University chapter. She oversees the entire chapter and works with her other CC to curate ideas and events for HCFU. She also mentors and trains the editorial team and helps create content and boost engagement alongside the social media team. In her free time, you can find Eileen creating new Spotify playlists, getting a sweet treat with friends, or obsessing over Taylor Swift. If she isn’t doing that, you’ll likely find Eileen with her six best friends from school talking about their “Big Three”: "Normal People," their favorite "Dancing With The Stars" performances, and Greta Gerwig's "Little Women."