When it’s more than just the “Winter Blues”

While some of us are in a winter wonderland this time of year, many people are not excited about the cold, slushy winter weather. It’s normal to feel a little gloomy when the weather is bitter, but for some people, the winter gloom is a depression that can have a serious impact on wellbeing.

Seasonal affective disorder, also called seasonal depression, is a type of depression that changes with the seasons, with symptoms usually appearing around the shift from fall to winter and disappearing over the warmer months of the year. As a result, winter feels like a dreadful season, plagued with feelings of hopelessness, depression, irritability, and low energy.

For college students, seasonal depression may interfere with school and work performance. With spring semester beginning mid-winter, this can be a huge problem for some students! Even those who do not experience seasonal depression may have mood changes and may be more irritable during the winter. It’s difficult to feel excited about classes when you have to trek through inches of snow to get to them!

If you know that you tend to experience seasonal depression or mood changes in winter, there are a few things you can try that may help alleviate the symptoms.

  1. Plan ahead of time – this year, up your self-care starting in fall. Get into a regular and adequate sleep schedule, exercise daily, and eat healthy to keep your body happy and give yourself a mental boost.
  2. Use bright light! 10,000 lux broad-spectrum lights can improve seasonal depression. This works because it mimics sunlight, which is reduced in the fall and winter. Since light has been shown to be helpful for many people with seasonal depression, special light therapy boxes are available to buy online (expect to spend around $50-$100). Keep your curtains open to let in as much natural light as possible, too.
  3. Stay connected with your friends and family. It’s easy to isolate yourself, especially during the winter season. Try to spend lots of time with loved ones who help you feel happy and loved. Doing fun outdoor winter activities with friends and family can expose you to more sunlight, too!
  4. Make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health professional, as therapy and antidepressant medication are other options that can help treat seasonal depression. Don’t be afraid to come to Counseling Services for help!

Avoid telling yourself that seasonal depression is just a case of the “winter blues.” Depression is a serious illness that you shouldn’t have to tolerate. Winter can be gloomy, but with help, it doesn’t have to feel hopeless.