By Savannah Ridgley, Contributing Writer
The trees are bare, the days are shorter, and throughout campus people are trading their shorts and tank tops for warm pants and sweaters. Even with little snow on the ground thus far, the quick transition to winter weather has elicited mixed emotions from the student body. Some desperately await the first snow day. Others dread the icy commute to classes and meal equiv. And some already face an annual side-effect of winter: Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, more commonly referred to as SAD, is characterized by bouts of depression encountered in the fall and winter months with periods of remission in the spring and summer. Some people may be subjected to more intense levels of depression, while others experience a milder Subsyndromal-SAD (S-SAD) that can be described as a case of the “Winter Blues.” Either form of SAD generally begins in one’s late teens or early twenties—when most students would be making the transition from high school to college or from college to life post-grad—and women and young adults are more likely to be affected. With the extended winters and shorter days that college students in the northeast are subjected to, it’s not surprising that SAD is especially common; approximately 5-13% of students are affected by more severe SAD, and 16-20% have S-SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a result of the decreased daylight hours increasing the production of melatonin—a sleep hormone that can affect mood, energy, and concentration. While it is believed low serotonin levels are also a factor, it is unclear exactly what role they play. Common symptoms for SAD include decreased mood and energy, difficulty waking up in the morning, irritability, anxiety, trouble concentrating, difficulty performing tasks that are normally easy or enjoyable, low sex drive, and craving carbohydrates.
While there is no simple cure for SAD, there are multiple ways to combat the symptoms. Mantor Library offers lamps in the Mezzanine (on the second floor) specifically designed to provide an additional light source in lieu of sunlight, complete with instructions for use. However, even on an overcast day, one hour of aerobic exercise outside will provide the same benefits of 2.5 hours of the light treatment indoors. If the FRC is your only option, of course, daily exercise will still help to alleviate SAD symptoms. Additionally, though it may feel more difficult, a regular sleep schedule that allows for waking up earlier will help to increase serotonin levels and serve as a mood boost, as it allows for more exposure to natural light. Changes in diet can also be helpful in combatting SAD symptoms. Sugars in carbohydrates increase serotonin levels, but consuming soda and junk food will only provide short bursts; instead, opt for complex carbohydrates like pastas and whole grains paired with healthy simple sugars like fruit. A Vitamin D supplement may also be a worthwhile addition to a daily routine, as our bodies cannot make Vitamin D during the winter when we live so far north. Vitamin D is essential to bone building, boosting immunity, and improving mood.
Concerned that you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but not entirely sure how to move forward? The UMF Student Health Center (778-7200 or firstname.lastname@example.org) is a great resource to help determine what treatment is right for you. If you suffer from more severe SAD, counselors at the Center for Student Development (778-7034) are also available to provide any emotional support you may need in addition to physical adjustments. Remember, you’re not alone this winter, no matter how often it feels that way.