How to Handle Seasonal Affective Disorder as a Student

With daylight saving time beginning this weekend, it is easy to get excited about spring being just around the corner. However, as any Coloradoan knows, just because the calendar says it is spring doesn’t mean the gray skies or snowstorms have retreated just yet. If you find yourself feeling blue through the winter season, you may be experiencing a very common and real mood disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

SAD is a set of symptoms some people experience during the winter months that can make people feel depressed and fatigued when there is less sunlight. Other symptoms include crankiness, increased appetite or weight gain, lack of energy, trouble concentrating or even more severe depression symptoms, like hopelessness or withdrawal from social interaction.

Who is affected?
As many as 11 million people in the U.S. struggle with SAD and 25 million more may suffer from a milder set of symptoms called winter blues, according to WebMD. SAD is more common in geographical places where there is a change in sunlight during the fall and winter months. It is also more common in people who have mood disorders, depression or bipolar. One of the most common groups of people to experience SAD are young adults, so that means there is a good chance that many college students experience mood changes during their winter term.

What can I do if I start feeling the wintertime blues?

  • Take care of yourself – As easy as this sounds, it can be more difficult than you think in the winter months. Make sure you are eating well and getting enough sleep. Also, exercising can have a mood boosting effect.
  • Stay connected – Be sure to communicate with the people in your life and spend time with friends. This can help with feelings of loneliness. In addition, talk about your struggles and feelings, this not only deepens bonds, but you may learn you are not alone when it comes to experiencing SAD.
  • Take advantage of sunny days – The temperatures may vary in the winter, but make sure you are soaking in sunlight by eating your lunch outside, positioning your study desk in front of a window or going for walks – even if you have to bundle up!
  • Invest in a SAD lamp – This lamp emits UV rays that can have an antidepressant effect. The user puts the extra powerful lamp in front of their face for 15-45 minutes, one or two times a day. SAD lamps have been shown to improve moods in only a few days.

How can I prevent SAD or the winter blues every year?
Sometimes it can feel like SAD suddenly smacks you in the face, but there are preventive measures to help prepare for seasonal mood changes. When you change your clocks, change your lifestyle! Start implementing your SAD tools like eating well, staying connected to others and exercising before symptoms start. SAD lamps have been shown to help prevent symptoms by using them as soon as there is a change in daylight. You can also schedule meetings with your mental health professional ahead of time.

What if SAD starts getting in the way of my life?
Sometimes SAD can become more severe than just feeling a little more tired and down in the winter. Feelings of hopelessness or severe fatigue may begin to affect your social life, studies or ability to work. In this case, it is important to talk to a professional. Speak with your doctor or counselor about possible treatments for SAD, or reach out to the RMCAD Wellness Center.

Be on the lookout for more mental health blogs for students on the RMCAD blog!