Coping with seasonal depression this winter

Lara Hans, Opinion Editor

Imagine this: it’s 4:30 on a bitter cold Monday afternoon and the sun has already begun to set. The daylight starts to fade out of the sky, and in less than an hour there won’t be any left. Soon, the only thing that remains is the suffocating darkness that engulfs the world until the sun rises over twelve hours later.

This is the cause of a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more commonly known as seasonal depression. This disorder typically onsets at the transition into the winter months, as the number of daylight hours decreases from around 15 hours on the summer solstice to around 9.5 hours on the winter solstice in Vienna. This lack of sunlight in winter months affects a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, resulting in what is known as seasonal depression.

The hypothalamus controls the production of hormones, such as serotonin and melatonin. When the hypothalamus is unable to work properly, it impedes the production of these hormones leading to decreased serotonin and increased melatonin.

Serotonin primarily controls mood while melatonin controls sleep and helps with the regulation of circadian rhythms.  When the production of these hormones is obstructed, it can lead to a range of different symptoms associated with seasonal depression such as feeling listless, losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable, sleeping too much, having low energy, and many more.

While seasonal depression can be difficult, one of Madison’s student counselors, Alice Whitener, suggested ways that students can cope with seasonal depression.

“Whenever you have a major change in time or weather, with less sunlight, any time you can get outside, any time that you can get physical activity- that’s just naturally good for your body because it produces endorphins and naturally makes you feel better,” Whitener said. “Especially when we feel that things are so busy, scheduling time for self care and things that are super basic like eating healthy foods, drinking lots of water, spending time by yourself or friends and family if that’s what you need to recharge. It’s also important to know what’s best for you because everybody’s a little different, and some people might need social activities while other people might need more quiet activities like reading a book or doing something artistic.”

A simple change in lifestyle could go a long way with relieving symptoms. This could include being more active each day, eating healthier foods, or avoiding sleeping during the day in order to regulate sleep patterns. Another way to deal with seasonal depression is to make an effort to participate in social activities, because isolation has been found to exacerbate seasonal depression. Moreover, something as basic as going outside for 10 minutes a day could do wonders for seasonal depression through increased sunlight exposure.

However, while these simple solutions may work for some people, they certainly don’t work for everybody. Those that experience more severe seasonal depression should consider some more involved alternatives such as counseling or even light therapy to mimic natural sunlight exposure.