What to do when you’re feeling down around wintertime
If you feel sad right now, chances are you’re not alone.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that usually kicks in around the same time each year. It typically occurs at the end of the fall months and worsens come winter, due to the lack of sunlight and shortened hours of daylight associated with the change in season.
“People who suffer from SAD experience an impact on their mood, like any clinical depression, but they are very sensitive to how much daylight they’re getting,” said Diana Brecher, a clinical psychologist at Ryerson University.
“The typical pattern for someone with SAD is that in the summers their depression seems completely gone, but as the light changes and our days get shorter the impact is that it affects mood but it also affects sleep.”
People who experience SAD often take long naps in the afternoon, withdraw socially, have certain food cravings and indulge in carbohydrates and sweets in an attempt to gain energy.
“I occasionally feel the effects of seasonal depression,” said Adriana Sisto, a fourth-year business management student at Ryerson. “I think that as a student you suffer from its effects even more so. Daylight savings and the transition into winter happens during such a busy time in the school year so it’s definitely a challenge to muster up any motivation to push through while suffering from it.”
Brecher said that seasonal depression can be the most challenging for people who have no choice but to push through despite the symptoms they are dealing with.
“It’s really hard to function in a depression if you have to function. If you have to learn new material, be creative, write exams, work on group projects; all of those things take focus and energy,” she said.
“As it is, online learning is taking a lot out of everyone, so if you add in a depression where there’s a lot of negative thinking, hopelessness and being self-critical, you might find it really hard to push yourself to function in what you’ve set out to do.”
There are stages of seasonal depression. While some experience extreme symptoms of SAD, many of us deal with much milder effects that can simply be considered cases of the winter blues.
“We all experience this a little bit in the winter; we go out less, we tend to want to have comfort food and sweets more. But it’s on a continuum and when it gets extreme it can get kinda debilitating,” said Brecher.
“I definitely do experience some degree of seasonal depression. I find that when the days get shorter and colder I very rarely leave my house. I usually go on regular walks as a way to improve my mental health, but now that it gets dark so early I find myself not going as regularly as I would like to. On top of that, the fact that we’re in a pandemic makes me not want to leave my house even more.”
Brecher said that if you notice yourself feeling down each winter and are beginning to see a pattern, it’s a good indicator that you should consider getting some help.
“There’s free professional counselling at Ryerson and I would encourage people to do that,” she said.
In addition to seeking professional help, Brecher says there are a number of other things you can do for yourself to offset the negative effects of SAD.
“Make sure that you’re waking up early and getting as much natural daylight as possible, that you’re putting in an effort to exercise, that you’re thinking about your diet and you’re making healthy choices and that you’re socializing and reaching out to the people that you do care about,” she said.
“It’s going against what you think you want, but they’re actually the things that are going to help the most.”
Anyone in search of support can reach out to the Centre for Student Development and Counselling, which has partnered with Keep Me Safe Mental Health and Counselling Service to provide 24/7 access to licensed counsellors via telephone and mobile chat.
“Depression can impact many parts of your life because it actually has symptoms that impact your whole self. It impacts your body, your mood, your mind, your emotions,” said Brecher.
“If anyone feels that they are experiencing seasonal depression, do something about it. Don’t just suffer alone, get some help. I think that’s a really important message.”