Around this time every year, as hours of daylight get shorter and clouds grow heavy in the sky, around half a million people in the U.S. are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Also called seasonal depression, this disorder appears at the same time each year, starting up in the fall and worsening in the winter. Another, rarer form of seasonal depression occurs in the spring and summertime.
Quite often when people begin to feel the effects of seasonal depression, they simply brush it off as “the winter blues,” citing that it’s nothing more than a typical sadness. However, seasonal depression is a real disorder caused by reduced sunlight. This reduction can affect your circadian rhythm, disrupting your biological clock and leading to feelings of depression. It can also drop your levels of serotonin, which may also trigger depression. Another cause of seasonal depression can be linked to your vitamin levels; vitamin D especially.
Many people feel the effects of seasonal affective disorder every year. SAD can also make it extremely difficult for some people to complete their work or even stay awake during the day. The lack of sunlight, especially during gloomy days, can make it incredibly hard to find motivation. This can directly alter how many people feel and behave during winter months and can even make simple self- care things, like washing your face or getting exercise becomes a chore.
Since so many people pass this off as the winter blues, they might not understand how seasonal depression actually affects them. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of seasonal depression 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 and experiencing changes in your appetite or weight.”
Seasonal affective disorder can impact college students at a harder rate due to the number of stressors they are already facing; it does not help that finals season and the start of a new semester adds another layer of stress. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exemplified the stress college students are facing and can make the effects of seasonal depression more intense.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to combat seasonal affective disorder. Simple things like maintaining a regular bedtime will even out your levels of melatonin, helping you rest easier. Taking a mental health day is also a great way to balance out work and school life and your health; emailing professors to inform them that you need a brief break can ease stress.
A more effective treatment is getting outside whenever it is sunny. However, in Boise it can seem as if sunny days are incredibly rare during the winter time. Another option is investing in a light therapy lamp, which research has shown is a good substitute for sunlight.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and certain other conditions by exposure to artificial light. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms.”
Amazon has a variety of light therapy lamps with different functions and modes, across a wide price range from expensive to affordable options. A single search on Amazon for “light therapy lamp” leads to nearly 400 results.