SAD doesn’t have to affect your winter anymore

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Ana Erickson, Features Editor

 

Ah, wintertime. One December morning, it blows in and lands on our doorsteps. It’s thrilling at first: a bracing chill in the air sparkling snowfall, with Christmas (and other holidays) on the horizon.

Finals conclude, winter break commences. The new year brings a sense of renewal, a fresh start. For three and a half weeks, everything is at peace.

And then school is back in session. New schedules for class and work, shifting workloads and interactions with new people all appear, as if specifically to throw you off your game. Maybe you can feel yourself wanting to hide from the world.

Maybe you start using the excuse of the cold to stay inside. Maybe the short, dark days of winter make you want to oversleep. You might have the winter blues, or at the most extreme, seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

It’s no secret: SAD is common, and it sucks. Almost literally, in fact, as it sucks the motivation right out of you. It’s especially draining if you already have depression, but it can even creep up on someone who is perfectly mentally healthy for the rest of the year.

While dreadful, SAD is completely normal. Even so, normal doesn’t mean healthy. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to alleviate symptoms of SAD and make it through to spring in one piece. As someone who has dealt with SAD for at least six winters, I’ve come up with a few things that have helped me. I can back these methods as pretty universally helpful. The trick is to make your body think it’s not winter.

  1. Make yourself comfortable. Spend some time and money if you can on self-care through comfort. I make a point of surrounding myself with the softest sweaters, warmest socks and fuzziest blankets. Stock up on gloves, hats and scarves. Treat yourself to a latte or a hot chocolate every few mornings. Something as simple as staying warm makes life less miserable when the sun isn’t in its full effect.
  2. Find the light. The sun’s distance really does play into SAD. When we don’t absorb as much light on account of shorter days or the inclination to stay inside because of the cold, our brains suffer. To counter this, let in as much light as possible. Keep your curtains open during sunny hours. Don’t hesitate to turn the light on in your room. For a heightened effect, look into light box therapy. You can take advantage of the light therapy offered on campus in the Arnold Health Center and the Ames Library, or purchase a light box of your own. My light box is one of my prized possessions, as it helps me so much. Just having an extra bright light turned on tricks your brain into thinking the sun is out.
  3. Limit your wallowing. When SAD hits, all I want to do is lock myself in my room and hibernate, and so do many others with the disorder. This only makes it worse. Don’t miss out on valuable sleep, but make an attempt not to spend every free hour in bed. Warm up to activity with short walks indoors (the hallways of your dorm or the library are perfect for this.) If you can manage, bundle up and spend a little time walking outside when the sun is out. These small bursts of activity keep you from getting stuck in a mental fog, like constant napping tends to.
  4. Eat well and often. This might seem super obvious, especially to someone who hasn’t experienced depression in any form. But, in a lot of cases, SAD (and depression intensified by SAD) makes normal activities like eating, talking and sleeping seem like exhausting tasks. Ironically, these very tasks, eating in particular, can be the best thing for you if you’re dealing with SAD. Soup is one of the best foods for SAD. It’s warm, comforting and unless you’re getting super cheesy corn chowder, it’s good for you. Stock your dorm with a few microwaveable soup cups for when you can’t drag yourself to SAGA. Meal bars made by Clif or Luna are great for when you can’t manage to make a real meal, too.
  5. Talk, talk, talk. When you’re depressed in any form, you can develop an inclination for isolation. It seems easier to avoid humanity than to stay connected to the world outside of your own head. But, as with eating, simply talking to other people can be great for pulling you out of your winter-induced fog. Call up family at home or chat with a friend while you walk together. Just a little bit of human interaction can, at the very least, distract you from feeling like garbage. Bonus points if you spend time with a trusted friend to whom you can vent about your problems; that can be truly cathartic.

The most important thing to remember: winter will end eventually. After passing December 21, the winter solstice, days gradually become longer.

By the spring equinox on March 20, you can congratulate yourself on surviving a winter with SAD. Even if, according to American Family Physician, 20 percent of people suffer from SAD (making it somewhat common) that is still an accomplishment.