Fighting winter blues
Think back on your day: did you oversleep and miss your first class? Did you eat three doughnuts in Roberts Dining Hall last Thursday? Did you skip out on the gym because you decided you were “too tired” to go? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you may be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But you’re surely not the only one; as the days get shorter, it seems as if our whole campus is ridden with this affliction.
SAD is a condition in which depression and other mood altering symptoms result from the change in season. It is most commonly associated with the winter months, when sunlight decreases and the cold gloomy days set in, but there are also people who are affected by SAD in the summer and spring months.
Individuals affected by SAD include adults, teens and even children. It is estimated that six in every 100 people experience SAD and that the rates of SAD in the United States are seven times higher among people in New Hampshire than in Florida, a finding that suggests that the further people live from the equator, the more likely they are to develop SAD.
Additionally, a recent psychology study found that 13 percent of college students in northern New England displayed symptoms of SAD. Since life on the Hill seems to get colder and darker with each passing day, it is important to get the facts: depression, hopelessness, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, appetite changes, cravings for foods high in carbohydrates and difficulty concentrating are all tell-tale signs of SAD.
However, one unproductive and lethargic day in the gloomy months of winter does not constitute a diagnosis of SAD. It’s normal to have some days when you feel down and eat half a Dana pizza; but if you feel down for days at a time and don’t seem to care for activities you once enjoyed, these might be signs of SAD. Other red flags include a major shift in sleep patterns and a reliance on drugs or alcohol for comfort. If these feelings seem familiar, it is important to seek help—there are things you can do. Make an appointment at the Garrison-Foster Health Center to consult with a physician to be diagnosed.
With the right diagnosis, there are many ways to treat SAD, most commonly through light therapy. Light boxes range anywhere from 50 to 100 dollars and are often covered by medical insurance.
Bright light therapy from light boxes can often help you feel better within a week. You might be skeptical that sitting under a lamp for half an hour can really heal such debilitating symptoms, but it’s not a hoax. Blood levels of the light-sensitive hormone melatonin, which may be abnormally high at certain times of day, are rapidly reduced by light exposure. The light can alter the body’s internal clock, which controls daily rhythms of body temperature, hormone secretion and sleep patterns.
Another treatment option can include counseling. Anti-depressants have been found to be effective in serious cases. The counseling services offered on campus at the Health Center are free, and you can schedule an appointment under the Counseling tab on the myColby portal.
By no means do you have to be diagnosed with SAD to talk to a counselor. Even if you are just having the occasional winter blues, the counselors here are available to provide support and advice. So enjoy this chilly December, and instead of pressing snooze for the sixth time, know that feeling down in winter is normal and there are things you can do about it.