Coming back from winter break can be a real slap in the face for many college students. Readjusting to dorm life, saying goodbye to our families and friends until the summer, and starting another semester full of classes and extracurriculars makes this time feel somewhat dreary and overwhelming. It’s difficult to get back into the swing of things after having taken an entire month to rest, recuperate, and relax, and the coming months usually don’t bring with them the most cheerful weather. All of these different challenges culminate into a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or what our generation has defined as “seasonal depression.” This term is usually brushed off as a joke but can, in fact, have significant effects on how we go about our daily lives.
6% of the United States is affected by SAD, and scientists have not yet found a definitive cause of the disorder. However, they do know that there are a variety of biological factors that can contribute to its emergence. A person’s circadian rhythm, melatonin and serotonin levels, and vitamin deficiencies can all affect a drop in mood when the days get shorter and the weather gets colder. Common signs of SAD include low energy, insomnia, changes in weight or appetite, and social withdrawal.
While everyone will probably say that they have experienced SAD to some extent, young people (around the age of 20) and women are actually at the highest risk of being severely affected by the shifting of seasons. This statistic, combined with the fact that high-stress levels contribute to the severity of the disorder, makes college women all the more susceptible to these feelings of anxiety, sadness, and fatigue. This added disadvantage can make navigating the competitive and fast-paced world of higher education even more difficult and can have a serious effect on our social and academic lives.
The good news, though, is that there are ways to combat the realities of SAD. Here are a few tips for helping to deal with these winter blues.
1. Maintain a regular bedtime- This is definitely easier said than done for most college students, but lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of SAD. Choose a cutoff time to stop doing your homework or watching TV and try as hard as you can to manage all of your priorities throughout the day so that you can relax at night. This elimination of late-night cramming will not only improve your mood, but it will help in producing quality work and will therefore boost your motivation and confidence in yourself.
2. Prioritize mental and physical wellness- Exercising regularly and in a way that you enjoy releases feel-good endorphins that enhance your mood and energy. Mindfulness activities including journaling and meditation can be huge stress relievers and are enjoyable to do on a cold day in the warmth of your dorm room. Making a positive effort to keep your body and your mind active will help to alleviate some feelings of sadness, and distract you from the anxieties in your life.
3. Change your environment- It has been proven that altering certain things such as the type of lighting in your bedroom or removing the drapes over your windows can help to suppress feelings of SAD. Painting your walls a brighter color or installing happy posters can quite literally light up your environment, which may improve your mood and distract you from the dark skies outside your window.
Ultimately, no amount of high-intensity light bulbs or yoga classes will change the realities of the changing weather and the different feelings that it brings. However, performing a few of these tasks may help distract you from the snow and rain; warmth and sunshine will exist again, so try and do everything in your power to take care of yourself until then.