Ways to Kick the Winter Blues at College: Home and Away

By Morgan Maddock ’23

The fall months: back to school excitement, beautiful New England foliage, pumpkin spice and everything nice we could ever want in our coffees, and for many of us, the onset of seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as SAD, is more than just a case of the winter blues, and prevention and management of what can be an annual struggle begins as early as the weather grows cold.

SAD has been estimated to affect between 4-6% of people, meaning on our small campus alone, up to approximately 140 students could be dealing with SAD. It is characterized by depression-like symptoms that correlate with a change in seasons. It is usually connected to the beginning of winter, although there are cases of summer-onset SAD. The most common symptoms include:

·       consistent depressive mood,

·        low energy,

·       irregular sleep patterns,

·       changes in appetite/weight fluctuation,

·       difficulty concentrating,

·       and feeling hopeless.

The important thing to know about these symptoms is that they are normal to experience every once in a while, but may be a sign of something more serious like SAD when they occur for multiple consecutive days with little relief.

           While serious cases of seasonal affective disorder are best treated by a mental health professional, according to the American Family Physician, 10-20% of people are affected by more “mild” SAD. On our campus alone, that’s almost 500 students. If you are someone that may suffer from mild SAD, here are some things you can do both on and off campus to fend away the winter blues.

TALK TO SOMEONE

           This is a great option if you’re living on campus, because the cost of seeing a counselor at the Wellness Center is covered by your tuition! Making an appointment is quick and easy through the Patient Portal which can be accessed through the my.assumption.edu student portal. The Wellness Center is staffed with friendly and professional counselors who, speaking from experience, make sure you feel comfortable discussing whatever issues may have led you to make an appointment. This can be something you do for as long as you need the support, or for the rest of the academic year!

GET OUTSIDE

           Obviously this gets tougher as the weather gets colder in New England, but invest in a warm coat and get out there! Especially due to the health concerns raised by COVID-19, getting outside is a relatively low-risk way to see friends and enjoy some time in the sunlight while you still can.  Personally, I’ve invested in a hammock and love scouting for new trees to hang it in with friends. Bring a couple blankets with you and you’ll be ready to soak up those last bits of sun before the snow hits the ground!

INVEST IN SOME GOOD LIGHTING

           One theory of the cause of SAD is the change in sunlight you experience during a change in seasons, especially the farther away you get from the equator. In Massachusetts, we can lose up to two hours of sunlight during the winter months. Studies have shown that light therapy has been effective in alleviating some of the symptoms of SAD, but if you’re trying this, make sure to research the kind of light to get! Some lights may be damaging to your eyes or skin, and normal lights won’t do much more than give you a headache. White fluorescent lights and full-spectrum lights are the most commonly recommended light boxes, with the most effective usage earlier in the day for approximately 30 minutes. Again, do your own research or talk to a doctor depending on the severity of your symptoms before you shine a bright light into your eyeballs daily. 

GET CREATIVE

           In the time of a global pandemic, self-care is more important than ever before. It can be physically and emotionally isolating, and with the cold months fast approaching, the “safe,” outdoor social interaction many of us relied on all summer will be scarce. Despite this, getting creative and finding safe, low-risk ways to socialize and practice self-care can help! For a date night between friends or with a significant other, the Chrome extension Teleparty is a great option. It allows as many friends as you want to sync their screens to watch the same show or movie on Netflix, HBO, Hulu, or Disney+. There is also a great group chat feature for real time discussion of whatever you’re watching! There are a host of other ways to get creative and social online, like hosting a Powerpoint night via Zoom, where everyone creates a funny presentation; free, virtual escape rooms; Kahoot tournaments and more. Holding safe and responsible gatherings that comply with state requirements if you’re off-campus, and school requirements if you’re on-campus is a great option as well.

           Again, none of these options are meant to treat or cure seasonal affective disorder in any way, but are instead an effort to alleviate some symptoms for people that may experience a mild form of seasonal depression. Being aware of the severity of your symptoms as well as how they affect your day to day life is a good way to stay on top of your mental health and seek further support if you need it.

Resources: 

National Institute of Mental Health:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

Information on SAD symptoms, risk-factors, and potential treatments

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services National Helpline:

1-800-662-HELP

Information services that provides local referrals and support

Mental Health America:

https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad

Information and resources on SAD

National Alliance on Mental Illness:

1-800-950-6264

Emergency mental health hotline; 10 AM to 6 PM EST

Assumption University:

508-767-7329

Marta Carlson in the Counseling Center; Director of Counseling Services

*Valley Girl does not own the photo used in this article.

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