Weekly Wellbeing

Weekly Wellbeing: Seasonal Depression

Alyana Beg

The year has reached its end, temperatures have dropped down from double digits to single digits, and the city is decorated with Christmas lights and Christmas trees. We tend to heavily romanticise this time of the year –  and rightly so, as we take out our puffers and trench coats and decorate our houses with lights and ornaments in excitement for the holiday season and the anticipation of snow. However, this time of the year may not be as jolly for many people as the mass media and people make it out to be. Along with its aesthetic perks, this time of the year the number of people suffering from seasonal depression goes up. Why, you may ask, as November and December are seen as the most magical time of the year? But unfortunately, the magic of Christmas isn’t enough to make someone forget about the inconveniences associated with the weather. Lowering temperatures and shorter days can affect someone much more than you may realise.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the federal agency for research on mental disorders, a person may be diagnosed with SAD if they experience symptoms of major depression that occur seasonally for at least two consecutive years. Symptoms may include sleeping or eating too much, withdrawing from social contact, feeling depressed nearly every day, feeling hopeless or worthless, being unable to focus, and not having any energy. With the days getting shorter we experience less sunlight, and with less sunlight we are exposed to less vitamin D, which promotes serotonin activity when skin is exposed to the sunlight.

This sometimes makes me feel stuck, as I have such few hours in a day to work

The dropping temperatures make it difficult for people to leave the house and do things they enjoy, me included. Waking up at around 10:00 AM every day means you get around 6 hours of sunlight every day, substantially lesser than what I’m used to. I work better when there’s sunlight, be it studying for exams or doing simple everyday chores. The sunset signifies the end of the day for me, which comes much earlier now. This sometimes makes me feel stuck, as I have such few hours in a day to work. Going to classes in this weather is a nightmare for me as well. I’m always afraid to get sick and feel so uncomfortable constantly layering.

Due to how much the season change affects me, I’ve managed to find ways to help with the depression that can loom over this gloomy weather. And this is some advice I’d like to share with everyone. One of the things that helped me the most was to start mentally preparing myself for the winter period while it was still autumn. This could be starting to adjust your sleep schedule to wake up earlier in the morning so that you could get more sunlight or starting to buy pieces for your winter wardrobe with enough time to try everything on and see what looks good and what feels comfortable. It is also essential to stick with that sleep schedule that you’ve formed. Getting a weighted blanket was also one of my best purchases for the winter season as they not only make you feel extra warm during cold nights, but also induce many mental health benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety, and improving sleep.

Another item to consider purchasing this holiday season is a dawn simulator alarm clock. These produce light that gradually increases in intensity and simulates the sun. Studies showed that after frequent use of the dawn simulator, people’s symptoms were greatly resolved or reduced. I would also recommend purchasing an essential oil diffuser, as aromatherapy can really help alleviate symptoms of depression. For example, lavender essential oil helps with anxiety and promotes sleep. Thus, these oils influence areas of your brain that are responsible for controlling moods.

Persevering through my impulsive thoughts and not letting myself cancel plans was one of the best things I did for myself

Another piece of advice that helped me a lot was to prioritise social activities and going out with my friends and family. This may seem like an obvious solution, but you’ll be surprised by how often you just feel like staying in bed and doing nothing because of how dark and cold it is. Persevering through my impulsive thoughts and not letting myself cancel plans was one of the best things I did for myself, as finding ways to stay connected with others is important. You can do seasonal activities such as visiting the Christmas market or going ice skating as this will help you form a more positive image of the season. You can also, of course, get yourself into the Christmas spirit by watching Christmas movies, making yourself a hot chocolate, or decorating your room for the holidays. Having something to look forward to has always helped with my depression, as it feels like a light at the end of the tunnel for me.

During the fewer hours of sunlight that we do get, it’s important to go out and experience the daylight by either going on a walk/run to get some exercise, or just going out and socialising. If you are indoors keep your blinds open for as long as possible and try sitting near a light space. Due to the small amount of vitamin D, we are exposed to during the winter it is also important to take vitamin D capsules every day as vitamin D deficiency puts you at risk for depressive symptoms. You could also fill your room with plants as they can increase your oxygen levels and lift your mood.

Alyana Beg

Featured image courtesy of Yuris Alhumaydy via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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Weekly Wellbeing

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