What are the Winter Blues?
Photo by Moses McAninch
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD or seasonal depression, is a form of depression that responds to the changing of seasons. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5% of adults in the U.S. suffer from SAD, with symptoms lasting roughly 40% of the year. Those that live in colder regions, further from the equator, are more likely to develop the disorder. Four out of five people diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder are women.
The symptoms of SAD are similar to that of other depressive disorders: depression, anxiety, mood changes, excessive sleeping, lethargy, overeating, social isolation, and loss of libido. What makes SAD unique from other forms of depression is its non-permanence; it is only experienced in specific seasons. Most individuals develop seasonal affective disorder in the fall or winter and notice relief in the spring or summer, though a small number of people experience it in reverse.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Exposure to sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, emotions, appetite, and digestion. When the cold months arrive and people huddle indoors, their serotonin levels dwindle. This drop in serotonin levels can induce seasonal depression. Additionally, as exposure to sunlight decreases, the production of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, increases. Excess melatonin has the potential to throw sleep/wake patterns out of balance which has been found to cause some of the symptoms associated with SAD.
What Can Help Seasonal Affective Disorder?
1. If you think you have seasonal affective disorder, talking to your doctor is the best first step! The EOU Student Health & Counseling Center is open from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Fridays. Health insurance is not required and there is no charge for general medical and wellness visits. To schedule an appointment call (541) 962-3524 or visit the office in person at the corner of 6th St. and L Ave.
2. Light therapy involves the use of a compact box that emits light, meant to imitate the sun; this method has shown to be effective up to 85% of the time. Although many light boxes can be found on Amazon, it is important to buy the right one. Good quality light boxes are at least 10,000 lux (a measurement of the intensity of light); this brightness makes them more effective in treating SAD. Light therapy should be done in the mornings for 30-60 minutes; put the box to the side, about a foot away, and don’t look right at it.
Talk to an eye specialist before utilizing light therapy if you have glaucoma, cataracts, or a family history of macular degeneration. Talk to your doctor before using light therapy if you take antipsychotics, antibiotics, or have bipolar disorder.
3. Some people find relief for SAD through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This type of therapy can help you learn ways to cope with your disorder, learn how to manage stress, identify and change negative thinking patterns, and receive help with building the healthy habits that can alleviate SAD.
4. Even though you might not see the sun, getting outside will increase your sunlight exposure, stimulate the development of serotonin, and help you soak up Vitamin D. If you just can’t bear the cold, sitting near a window will also help. Increasing the amount of light you take in is the most important part!
5. When serotonin dwindles due to the cold months, exercise is a great way to stimulate the production of serotonin and other mood and energy boosting hormones. EOU students can exercise at the Quinn Coliseum 5 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday or at the Fitness Center 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday.