Avoiding Seasonal Depression in a Cold, Cold, Winter
In October, the leaves turn yellow as we excitedly pick out our Halloween costumes. The month of December brings us the end of a stressful semester as the snow falls and the streets light up. Between these two happy times is November, a dark time, both literally and figuratively. The leaves fall and the days get dark and short. There are no holidays to look forward to and most CEGEP students are swamped with assignments.
Seasonal affective disorder is a psychological condition, often referenced as “seasonal depression” or, in scientific terms, major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns, that can gravely affect people’s mental health at this time of year.
Seasonal affective disorder or “SAD” has many unique elements but is still considered part of the wider depressive disorder. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) reports that SAD counts for around 10% of all depression cases. The symptoms are quite similar to those of other types of depression, which includes but is not limited to low energy, irritation, loss of interest in activities and hobbies, appetite change and constant fatigue. The major difference for seasonal depression is that it only occurs during specific seasons, most often fall or winter. For most, symptoms begin in November, they peak in January or February and begin to ease in May. The disorder is mainly caused by lack of light, a result of shorter days, gloomy weather and more time indoors, because of the cold.
Seasonal Depression is most likely to appear in those aged 18 to 30. Living farther from the equator also significantly increases chances of suffering from SAD with CMHA stating that up to 1 to 2% of Canadians suffer from SAD in their lifetime and an additional 15% experience unpleasant milder versions of the disorder that do not cause major disruptions to their livelihood. For students, school in November is often overwhelming, Consecutive due dates minimise any opportunity for exercise which would bring endorphins and time to be social. Things like these would bring relief. With these factors considered, Dawson students are out of luck and quite at risk.
But don’t get spooked! There are several measures you could take this month to make winter increasingly bearable or possibly enjoyable for yourself. Adding light to your life is a vital measure since light deprivation causes drops in your body’s production of serotonin, the key hormone for feelings of well-being and happiness. For this purpose, the CMHA recommends spending more time outdoors during daylight hours, installing skylights and lamps, opening curtains during the day and moving your furniture in order for you to sit closer to windows during winter months. You could go as far as purchasing an artificial light therapy box. Physical activity and exercise also relieve stress and increase mental and physical well-being. Winter sports such as skating, sledding and cross-country skiing can be practiced in city parks, often for free. I, personally, love to skate with my friends in the old port where events such as fireworks or karaoke on ice are often held. You could also purchase a gym membership, take free exercise classes at Dawson or do workout YouTube videos. If you are looking for small changes, something as simple as a daily 10-minute walk could undoubtedly change your mood.
Seasonal changes can be difficult, if your symptoms of seasonal depression remain mild these techniques could be unable to ease your symptoms. If these tricks do not work, if you stop experiencing pleasure or joy altogether or if your seasonal depression starts seriously affecting your life, seek medical attention from a professional as soon as possible. Please take care of yourselves; Winter is coming!