It’s odd how the seasons first change so slowly and then seemingly all at once we’re thrown into a completely different universe. From feeling the sun melt on your skin until 9:00 p.m. to watching the outside world get swallowed by night before you’ve even had dinner, it is something us Michiganders must adapt to year after year. And yes, we can spruce it up with festivities like haunted houses and pumpkin patches and jacking up our excitement for the upcoming holiday season but the truth is, most people do in fact struggle with this drastic change after summer. It brings upon a very common struggle known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
As difficult as it may be to discuss, SAD is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed to have. It is estimated that 10 million Americans get diagnosed every year and another 20% reportedly have more mild forms. This disease is also 4 times more likely to occur within women than men but it can happen to anyone. The symptoms of SAD include typically long lengths depressive episodes repeating year after year during a season. It is usually in the Fall or Winter time, which is why it is often called the “Winter Blues,” but there are also reported cases during the spring and summer time as well. It may be identified in a person from fluctuation in weight, drop in motivation, mood swings, body pains, disordered eating habits and overall irritability.
To first understand how to overcome these, it’s easier to understand why it may be happening. One of the biggest reasons for Fall-Winter depression is the lack of sunlight a person is getting. A persons’ amount of sunlight triggers how much Serotonin their brain produces, which is known as the “happy chemical.” When a person has to make the switch of the summer sun to cold, fall nights, their brain doesn’t make as much serotonin, leaving them triggered into depressive episodes until their body can get that sunlight again. Changes in season also disrupts Melatonin levels, which helps a person sleep, leaving them constantly tired and unmotivated.
Another reason for SAD could be trauma. If a person suffered a tragic loss or traumatic event during a certain time of the year, our mind and bodies often associate the season with that event, causing us revisit those feelings during that time year after year. We subconsciously begin creating a seasonal depression from our own tragic experience. For example, if someone were to lose a family member in December, the holiday season may be tainted for them for future years as it only reminds them of the pain they had once experienced during that time.
SAD hits college students especially hard. Not only do we have the latter factors but we also struggle with the stress of finals, preparing for the next semster and being away from our families. These emotions of anxiousness, sadness and loneliness are totally normal to have and there are ways to combat them.
Exercising, meditating, eating healthy, engaging in social events, sticking to a solid sleep schedule, planning fun future events and overall doing activities that make you happy are all good habits to practice during this time to keep spirits up and your mind distracted but there is one practice that I feel is most important and effective: Therapy.
There is a stigma that follows therapy, that it’s only for people who are unstable but that’s not true. Therapy gives a person a wonderful outlet by speaking to an unbiased professional about all the feelings and emotions they may not be able to convey to friends and family. For EMU students, we are lucky to have Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Snow Health Center. They offer 13 free therapy sessions with a licensed professional as well as light therapy, 30 minutes under a lamp to mimic sunlight and help enhance serotonin levels. CAPS has been incredibly helpful to me and many of my friends during the cold, dark winter months.
So whether you are suffering from SAD or notice a friend following the common symptoms, just know that it is perfectly normal. It is so common to suffer from seasonal depression and you don’t need to let it consume you. It’s incredibly difficult to get out of the rut but there are ways you can at least lighten the blow and learn to manage these dark emotions. Just remember that it’s okay to need therapy, you will make it through the season and you’re never alone!