As winter days shorten counselors suggest ways to address seasonal depression
December 6, 2021
December 21 marks the first day of winter, and the transition from fall to winter brings not only colder weather and shorter days, but, for many people, something more concerning. According to the Mayo Clinic, three million Americans experience seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as seasonal depression, or SAD for short.
SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, most often in the late fall and winter, and is more prevalent in regions far from the equator, such as Wisconsin. SAD is also more common in those between 18 and 30 years old, particularly women.
Despite how widespread it is, SAD is often trivialized, and many who experience it never realize they have it or seek help. Mark Huttemier, a counselor at UW-River Falls, has written a short article on SAD and how one can recognize and address it.
According to the article, people who are feeling irritable or “down” during the winter, or wanting winter to end and spring to arrive may be experiencing SAD. SAD shares many symptoms with other types of depression; according to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms include “fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal.”
Huttemier recommended five ways to combat SAD: exercising, eating healthy foods, spending time outside, developing a daily routine, and creating plans to keep looking forward to the future.
Exercise, Huttemier said, decreases levels of cortisol, a chemical associated with stress, and improves energy levels and mental acuity.
Huttemier recommended replacing foods that are “high in fat and sugar,” such as fatty meat and soft drinks, with those that are “high in protein, complex carbs, and fiber,” such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean meat.
While spending time outside might seem counterintuitive, outside light can improve energy levels and mood by helping the body “maintain its sleep/wake cycle.” The Mayo Clinic recommends a light therapy box as beneficial for this purpose.
Huttemier wrote that we should seek to develop a daily routine. The body likes routine, and sticking to one can help to cope with SAD.
“Get up, eat, exercise, study, relax, and go to bed at around the same time each day,” said Huttemier.
Finally, develop plans and goals to keep “excited about the not-so-distant” future. What these plans are does not matter as long as they “drive you onward,” Huttemier wrote.
Of course, these are all methods to combat SAD, but often there are times when it can be difficult to address SAD or other struggles without help. Huttemier emphasized that, at UWRF there are free confidential and professional counselling services for students.
Students who feel overwhelmed or hopeless are encouraged to call this service at 715-425-3884. For medical emergencies, they are recommended to call campus police at 715-425-3133 or 911.