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Spotlighting Seasonal Depression

Spotlighting Seasonal Depression

Overcoming Winter Quarter Blues  

By Ben Wexler  

Feeling down during winter quarter is not uncommon, unfortunately, as students are at the ripe age to be susceptible to seasonal depression. [1] Treatments do exist, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The Collegian has met with upperclassmen to learn about what has helped them overcome the winter blues.  

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that often occurs during late fall through spring when days grow shorter and sunlight exposure dwindles. [2] The lack of sunlight decreases serotonin and increases melatonin, causing an imbalance in mood and increases sleepiness, respectively. Other symptoms of SAD include social withdrawal, feelings of melancholy, anxiety, and changes in appetite. [3]  

For Eric Baer, soccer player and senior aviation major, the beginning of winter quarter means the end of the soccer season and less opportunities to fly due to harsh weather. Baer looked back at how he felt during his first winter quarter as a freshman at WWU, “I just stopped having things to look forward to with no soccer and if I’m not flying, it’s really hard to keep myself motivated to get the next license.” [4] 

“Being from California, I don’t really see snow much, so it’s kind of a blessing,” said Baer, expressing how he lifts his spirits by focusing on the positives. [5] 

Not a day goes by where you don’t see Baer in the gym improving himself physically to get through winter quarter. “The gym is the only way for me to stay disciplined, having a set time to work out really helps you cope,” he explained. Baer also gave advice saying, “The best thing I think is to really find something that you can grind on to take your mind off the lows of winter quarter.” [6] 

The dark and hazy winter days can really affect your mood. pexels-photo-6495323.jpg. Photo from https://www.pexels.com/photo/cold-snow-wood-road-6495323/ 

Tanner Buller, a junior biology pre-medicine major, overcomes winter blues by journaling to become more aware of himself and pin-pointing actions he can take for self-care. Buller described how “even if I don’t feel like it, I write out 10 things that I am grateful for.” [7] A study by the International Journal of Social Psychiatry found that depressive patients who practiced gratitude exercises recovered and felt more motivated to bounce back from their distress. [8] 

SAD affects 5% of the United States population, with more cases found in states farthest from the equator and in people ages 20 to 30. [9] For example, only 1% of Floridians experience SAD, while 10% of Washingtonians are affected. Additionally, another 30% of people experience mild forms of SAD. [10] 

John Hopkins University, a top medical school in the U.S., detailed how SAD is treated with psychotherapy, exposure to sunlight, and antidepressants. Contrary to popular belief, they do not rely solely on vitamin D.  

A 2020 study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine uncovered that taking vitamin D supplements showed little remedy for SAD. The study randomized SAD patients, providing them with either vitamin D or a placebo for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, there was no significant difference between vitamin D and placebo patients. [11] “It’s not recommended to treat seasonal depression solely with vitamin D,” said Anisha Patel-Dunn, chief medical officer of LifeStance Health. [12] Relying only on vitamin D probably will not work as a remedy, since seasonal depression is the result of multiple factors. 

Using antidepressants may also prove effective in reducing SAD. However, it is important to beware of potential unwanted side effects. Before using antidepressants to treat seasonal depression, you should consult with a doctor.  

Even if it is chilly outside, taking walks can help seasonal depression. pexels-photo-248023.jpg. Photo from https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-standing-on-riverbank-248023/ 

People suffering from SAD should invest into light therapy, which has shown effective in up to 85% of diagnosed cases. Light therapy has been shown to work because it suppresses the excess melatonin which is created by the lack of sunlight in winter. [13] 

If you are experiencing the winter blues, find your own method that works for you, whether that is hanging out with friends, exercising, eating healthy, or investing in light therapy. [14] People experiencing SAD should also see a doctor if possible. Students at WWU can visit the University’s holistic wellness center for free mental health advice. The wellness center can be reached at (509) 527-2147.  

References 

1. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). (n.d.). Mental Health America. https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad  

2. Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal affective disorder: an overview of assessment and treatment approaches. Depression research and treatment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4673349/  

3. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). (n.d.). Mental Health America. https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad  

4. Interview with Eric Baer, 1/20/22. 

5. Ibid. 

6. Ibid. 

7. Interview with Tanner Buller, 1/22/22. 

See Also

8. Chowdhury, M. R. (2022, January 7). The neuroscience of gratitude and how it affects anxiety & grief. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/ 

9. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). (n.d.). Mental Health Americahttps://www.mhanational.org/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad 

10. The winter blues. (n.d.). Counseling Center. https://www.washington.edu/counseling/the-winter-blues/ 

11. Yang, Y., Zhang, S., Zhang, X., Xu, Y., Cheng, J., & Yang, X. (2020, August 4). The role of diet, eating behavior, and nutrition intervention in Seasonal affective disorder: A systematic review. Frontiers in psychology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7438823/  

12. Beringer-Tobing, B. (2021, November 24). Can taking vitamin D help with seasonal depression? Here’s what experts had to say. POPSUGAR Fitness. 

https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/vitamin-d-for-seasonal-depression-48582851

13. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). (n.d.). Mental Health America. https://www.mhanational.org/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad 

14. Seasonal affective disorder. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/seasonal-affective-disorder 

Cover art by Hannah-Jane Gillespie

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