They say that April showers bring May flowers, but what do January showers bring? For residents of the northwestern corner of the country, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may be the answer. This is a disorder that seriously affects about 6 percent of Americans ages 20-40, and this does not include the 20 percent who experience less severe symptoms. Of these percentages, 75 percent are said to be women.
It is a pretty common opinion, at least among my peers, that summertime is preferable over the winter months, and it makes sense—it’s less stressful, more fun, and the weather allows us to enjoy outdoor activities without freezing or getting soaked. Even given the financial benefits, the number of Southern California kids that decide to come to school in Eugene always throws me. Even though the majority of them love this school and the experiences they have, there is no shortage of complaints about the cold and constant rain.
This makes for a less active student population in the fall and winter months. Students become more tired, less productive, and have tendencies to veg out and and smile less. Oregon is ranked the fourteenth most depression-affected state in the nation. But why? After looking into it, I realized that it is not the cold or rain that makes us all want to snuggle up and avoid homework—it’s the darkness.
During the fall and winter, the Northwest is under pretty constant cloud cover. It’s an event when the sun decides to shine down for an hour or two in the middle of January. But the sunshine does more than spark excited small talk about the weather—it gives us the chance to soak up some precious vitamin D, which helps us feel more awake and healthy. Melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep, is produced in amounts inversely related to how much vitamin D we absorb. This causes us to experience a dramatic energy low, which serves as a basis for other SAD symptoms including feelings of depression, cravings for sweet and carb-loaded foods, anxiety, and a less-positive feeling about life in general.
Methods to avoid these symptoms are different for everyone who is affected by them. Spending as much time in the sunlight as possible is crucial. When you cannot do so, light therapy is an alternative option often prescribed. This involves a special lamp that burns ten times brighter than normal indoor lighting and has the ability to simulate a sunrise by increasing in brightness throughout your morning.
Another way to combat symptoms is to create a healthy lifestyle. This includes keeping an eye on your diet and exercise routines, cutting back on time in front of the computer, and trying to maintain a positive mental outlook. These notions may be easier said than done, but they are the main components to beating winter blues and living a sustainable and healthy life overall. If you have a hard time doing these things on your own, talk to a counselor or a friend face-to-face.
Feeling the effects of darkness is more common than you might think, especially in the stressed-out lives of university students. Just don’t forget to take a step back sometimes and focus on what makes you smile.