It gets dark way too early. It’s cloudy all the time. And, oh yeah, about six inches of snow have fallen since Saturday night. You can’t leave the building without a coat. You have to watch your step or you’ll slip on the ice.Some of us love the winter and everything that goes with it. But for many of us, the months between fall and spring seem to last forever and can take a toll on our physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressive disorder that affects millions of people during the winter months. Symptoms include mild to more severe depressive symptoms such as feelings of sadness, lack of motivation and interest, low energy, and changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
Most medical professionals believe that SAD is caused by shorter daylight hours during the winter. Living in areas with more cloudy days than sunny days also can bring on SAD. You are also more susceptible if you spend most of your time in rooms without natural sunlight or if you spend most of your waking hours at night.
People who experience SAD will often experience a relief of symptoms as winter gives way to spring. However, knowing that these doldrums will likely recede when the weather warms doesn’t mean that one simply has to deal with it until then.
Many of the solutions that effectively treat other mental health issues also work to fend off SAD. There are also treatments that specifically address SAD symptoms.
Light boxes, also known as SAD or light therapy lamps, are readily available from online retailers and look a lot like a picture frame or an iPad. Sitting next to a light box for about 30 minutes in the morning can simulate the effects of absorbing natural sunlight.
I first heard about light boxes shortly after becoming a counselor 15 years ago and bought one for myself. One of our therapists reported after using it for a short duration during a particularly dark and rainy day that she felt like she’d just had a boost of caffeine.
Having sung the praises of these light boxes, I must now stress that they aren’t a magic pill and are not guaranteed to banish the blues forever. But if you’ve only contended with minor symptoms of SAD, it might be all that you need.
If you’re having to cope with a more severe depressive condition, a more intentional multipronged approach to treatment is likely to be most effective. I’ll mention the three big guns: counseling, medications and exercise.
Meeting with a counselor for a few sessions to work through problems and collaborate on some solutions is something anybody can consider at any time of year. Counselors can be hard to find at times and they can seem pricey when not covered by insurance. Fortunately, Goshen College students have access to trained counselors in the counseling services department, and the costs are already covered.
When symptoms of depression are severe enough that you find it extremely difficult to attend to the things that are important to you, medications such as antidepressants should be considered.
Depressed moods arise due to chemical imbalances in the brain and in spite of our best efforts, maintaining a healthy balance can be very difficult without the aid of medications. You will need to see a doctor or nurse practitioner to get a prescription.
Lastly, exercise has been shown to be as effective as counseling or medications in fighting off all manner of mental health maladies. I recommend that you pick a physical activity that you enjoy and are likely to do on a regular basis.
If you think you’d benefit from meeting with a campus counselor, fill out the form at https://www.goshen.edu/campuslife/counseling/.