The winter months bring with them shorter days and earlier sunsets, which for some can lead to seasonal depression or changes in their mood.
According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression connected to seasonal changes. In most cases, it begins in the fall and winter months and resolves itself by the onset of spring.
About 5% of American adults experience SAD, and it’s more common in women than men, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Some of the symptoms include a depressed mood, loss of interest in activities or hobbies, and increased fatigue.
Ryan McKenna, freshman computer science major, said he noticed how the change in seasons impacts him.
“I wouldn’t say I get depressed, but in the fall and winter, it feels like things tend to slow down. I don’t seem to be as active,” he said. “I don’t feel too good about it. I’d rather not be in that seasonal mode. When things are brighter, I’m much more active. When we come back from [winter] break, it’s usually the worst.”
SAD’s prevalence in the winter months stems from how our bodies respond to shorter days. “Our circadian rhythm is based on a lot of exposure to light, which then is tied into a lot of hormones and how our brain is functioning,” said Dr. Emily Slonecker, psychology professor at Cabrini. “The belief is that extreme changes in the amount of light we’re being exposed to and when, are leading to shifts in other neurotransmitters that are related to the way we feel about our behaviors and life in general.”
However, SAD may also present itself during the summer months. Isaiah Reed, sophomore psychology major, said that a lack of activity contributes to a negative shift in his mood. “Except for the spring and summer, you know you’re going to be at school, so you’ll at least be doing something,” he said. “But in the summer, for me, I have less activity. I think that’s what has a role in it.”
Reed says he tries to stay active in order to keep his mental health positive. “If I do realize I’m sad, I try to keep my mind off of it and keep my body occupied. I’ve been meditating as well,” he said. “It sounds insensitive to say ‘If you’re sad, just get up and do something,’ but that’s what you have to do. A lot of times depression comes from when your mind starts racing. That’s where meditation can help; it slows everything down.”
Additionally, keeping a steady routine and habits can be helpful as well. “In general, trying as much as you can to have a consistent routine is going to be helpful,” Slonecker said. “Make sure that even if you don’t feel like doing anything, you’re doing small things. The other thing is trying to keep a good sleep schedule. As much as you can, try to regulate your sleep and be strict about when you’re waking up and falling asleep.”
Aside from daily routine changes, there are other treatments, though not all are proven to be effective. “There are light therapy options available. I don’t think there’s a ton of research about whether or not they’re truly effective,” Slonecker said. “It’s one of those things where theoretically, it’s effective, but on a user commercial level, it’s really challenging for that to be something people can do that will actually help their symptoms.”