By Margaret Koss
The harsh Wisconsin winters generate not only extreme drops in temperature, but they can also cause drops in mood and seriously dampen one’s mental and emotional well-being. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, affects those who live further from the equator; for example, it affects about 9.9% of Alaska’s population compared to 1.4% of Florida’s. (Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan. Abnormal Psychology. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill Education. 2014. p. 179.)
Out of about the one-quarter of Lawrentians that seek counseling every year, a fair amount do so because of SAD brought on by the winter.
Associate Dean of Students for Health and Wellness Scott Radtke described seasonal affective disorder as being “a condition where a person might see a pattern in their moods where during the winter they feel more depressed and better at other times of the year, not attributed to specific stressors.” Rather than being a result of certain events or added stress, seasonal affective disorder is a timely pattern, widely believed to stem from the lack of natural sunlight and Vitamin D in the winter months. Some believe it stems from a sort of evolved version of hibernation lingering from our ancestors. (Nesse, Randolphe M; Williams, George C. Why We Get Sick. New York: Vintage Books. 1996.)
A variety of ways to combat the disorder include “being in a very good sleep-wake cycle, as that can get thrown off in the winter,” Radtke said, as well as monitoring “exercise, social engagement, and diet.” Oversleeping and lack of exercise can add to already present fatigue, and overeating—especially carbohydrates, which are craved more by those suffering from depression—can contribute to feelings of sadness. Essentially, maintaining a well-rounded routine throughout the months lacking in sunlight makes it much easier to avoid becoming seasonally depressed.
Another technique that some with the disorder respond to is sitting in front of light boxes for 20-30 minutes while studying or reading. Light boxes are located in counseling services, most of the residence hall lounges, and the CTL.
“If [someone] is feeling any difficulties, they should come in to counseling services or seek a physician to rule out other things going on,” Radtke said. “If they look back on their history and remember feeling more down in the winter months, especially if they’re originally from a warmer climate, they should come in to talk to us.”
Since the disorder often occurs in people without mental health issues normally, it often isn’t taken as seriously as regular depression. “Even if you believe it’s temporary, it still affects concentration, sleep, and mood throughout the winter term. Being depressed even for a short amount of time can be difficult to cope with,” Radtke said, further urging Lawrentians to make an appointment with a counselor if they suspect the winter is affecting their academic, social, and personal life.