When the cold, snowy wintertime rolls around, many people experience the wearisome effects of seasonal affective disorder. According to Mayo Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to a change in the season, most commonly occurring during the winter.
SAD is caused by the reduced amount of sunlight during the winter, which disrupts our circadian rhythm (our internal biological clock that tells us when to eat, sleep and wake). It is important that it stay regulated because it can disrupt hormone production and other bodily functions if left unaddressed. Additionally, SAD reduces levels of serotonin, a chemical released by our brain that affects our mood, as well as levels of melatonin, which help regulate sleep patterns and mood.
Seasonal affective disorder can be particularly difficult for college students. According to an article from USA Today, seasonal depression during the winter is most common in northeastern colleges in the US, and it affects around five to 13 percent of the population. Stress from school contributes to the anxiety and depression, and the most common symptoms include trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, irritability and avoidance of social situations.
Norman Rosenthal is a well-known psychiatrist who helps treat people with psychiatric and emotional health issues. He helped to describe and name SAD, and he also helped develop light therapy as a treatment for this disorder. According to Rosenthal’s website (normanrosenthal.com), light therapy mimics regular sunlight and affects the chemicals in your brain that deal with mood and sleep. Students can also combat SAD by staying socially active, continuing doing things with friends, and talking to a friend or even a professional immediately after feeling any of these symptoms.
Most of the people who do have SAD brush it off and tend to overlook symptoms as just feeling “sad” or “down,” which is why it is important to talk to someone if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. They can affect you long-term both socially and academically if left untreated.