Seasonal Affective Disorder
How sunlight affects student psychology
With the end of the summer months comes less sunshine, and while for some, waking up early may pose a challenge year-round, evidence shows that dark mornings may have specific effects on certain people.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a condition associated with a change in seasons that is attributed primarily to the lack of sunlight characteristic of the late autumn and winter months.
“It’s similar to depression, but a mark of it is that it occurs seasonally,” said Marta Edgar, a registered psychologist with SAIT’s Student Development and Counselling Services.
“Occasionally, people feel bad in the summer, [but] it’s more common in the winter.”
Though not the same as clinical depression, its effects can be mild to severe, with most people affected experiencing low energy levels, lethargy and negative moods.
Residents of northern countries are more likely to experience the condition than those in more tropical, southern climates.
“Rates are high in Scandinavia and Northern Canada,” said Edgar, noting that international, as well as domestic students, deal with the condition alike.
“There’s lots of Canadians who experience it. People can still suffer even if they’ve lived here for generations.”
Psychological studies have long circulated about the interplay of certain hormones in regards to depression, but Edgar says it’s a bit more complicated than mere brain chemistry.
The hormone serotonin, for example, influenced by levels of light and associated with feelings of happiness, has traditionally been given to combat symptoms of S.A.D., but there has not been clear evidence to demonstrate that ingesting these so-called “happy pills” makes much of a difference.
“It’s not a conclusive thing,” said Edgar.
Instead, Edgar recommends consulting one’s doctor if weary of your mental health, as well as implementing a few everyday practices.
“There are simple ways that people can feel better,” said Edgar.
“Go for a walk at noon. Get out in the sun.
“Some people find therapeutic light helpful.”
Other suggestions include eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly and remaining social, even if you don’t necessarily feel up for it.
It’s important, Edgar says, for students to be aware of what’s available to them and to make use of on-campus resources whenever possible.
SAITSA’s Student Support Centre, Wellness Wednesdays and other initiatives exist to help students relax, socialize and unwind from the pressures of everyday life.
“Counselling services are available to most full-time students, as well as other resources on campus to increase student wellness,” said Edgar.
She also encourages students to take note of their overall health, consulting professionals about any worrisome symptoms. While low energy is associated with S.A.D., for example, it can also be an indication of an iron deficiency.
“Check with your doctor about your overall health,” said Edgar.
Student Development and Counselling. AA205, Heritage Hall.
Ways to beat S.A.D
Get outside! Beating the mid-semester blues can be as simple as taking a mid-day stroll. Edgar encourages getting a little extra sun exposure to bring up your mood.
Sleep! It’s just as important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep as it is to be cautious of over-sleeping. S.A.D. often causes increased lethargy, so take precaution to avoid lying in bed all day, as well as staying up watching one too many episodes of Stranger Things.
Nutrition! This goes without saying, but being intentional about food intake can make a big impact on morale and overall energy levels. Be sure to eat a diet high in energy-rich foods, and consider laying off caffeine to avoid the afternoon crash.
Have fun with friends! Social contact is essential. Fight the temptation to isolate yourself when you’re feeling down, and instead, gather a few friends to raise your spirits.