By: Ashley Rose
December, the first real month of temperatures dropping, makes almost everyone want to stay home. However, with cold weather and early sunsets, some people might struggle a little more with symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Seasonal Affective Disorder, as described by the Mayo Clinic, is a type of depression that occurs with the changing of seasons, most often beginning after the time change in November that makes the evenings dark by 5 p.m. While often downplayed as the “winter blues,” SAD can have a major impact on mental health, sometimes causing issues that last longer than the cold season. While it is most common for these symptoms to present themselves at the end of fall, some individuals experience SAD in the springtime.
Every year, SAD impacts four to six percent of people. It is four times more common for women to experience SAD than men; however, women are more likely to seek diagnosis and treatment for their mental health, so the number of men who suffer from SAD is likely higher.
SAD is known to impact individuals with comorbid conditions, like major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, more severely than those without it, increasing depressive episodes and in extreme cases, causing suicidal thoughts. In individuals who experience SAD in the spring and summer time, it may increase episodes of mania or hypomania.
For college students who go to school in the Midwest, SAD can be exacerbated by finals season, since the harsher weather lines up with increasing stress and more deadlines.
A 2020 study by the American Psychiatric Association found that more than 60% of college students meet the criteria for at least one mental health problem, the most common ones being depression and anxiety. Between the high rate of mental health issues, finals and SAD, college students often struggle to finish the fall semester on a good note.
Research shows that most college students are unlikely to seek professional help due to having too busy of a schedule, expecting the sadness to pass, and being financially insecure. So, what is a college student to do? Here are a few tips that may help relieve some stress.
Set aside 30 minutes a day to do absolutely nothing. Instead of trying to do your “favorite activity,” as some professionals recommend, taking time to do not a single thing can allow the nervous system to calm down and decompress. This can be paired with music, laying in bed, spending time with a pet, or watching a TV show (instead of scrolling endlessly).
When the weather is decent, try to take a walk or sit outside, even if it is just for a short moment. SAD occurs most often due to low levels of serotonin as well as Vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced through sun exposure, and low levels can directly lead to lower serotonin levels. Taking time to consume sunlight helps balance your circadian rhythm, which is directly impacted by the time change.
Consider downloading a self-care or meditation app. While these apps do not offer the professional care you can get from a therapist, they offer different techniques that can lower stress levels, help you fall asleep at night, increase focus and concentration, walk you through anxiety attacks and more. Top-rated self-help apps include Moodnotes, Calm and Headspace.
If you feel your symptoms are becoming increasingly severe, it is best to try to seek professional help. IU South Bend offers free in-person and online counseling services to students. The counseling services can work with your busy schedule and prevent financial concerns from arising as you get help. For more information contact the Student Counseling Center via phone at 574-520-4125.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call 988 for immediate mental health assistance from a professional.