Home2019-2020Issue 12How to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

How to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sanja Zelen, Staff Writer

As the days grow shorter and colder, some students may find themselves feeling more stressed or less motivated. There are a multitude of explanations for this shift in mood, but one of them is especially common for people living in Oregon. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, can have a negative toll on the moods of students, but fortunately there are remedies—on campus, store bought and online—that students can turn to if they are affected by SAD.

Marked by the changing of the seasons, seasonal affective disorder occurs when the days get shorter and darker around late autumn. People with SAD experience depressive episodes linked with the calendar year, which may entail irritability, excessive sleeping, a craving for carbs and difficulty concentrating. Residents living in cloudier, rainier states, such as Oregon, are more prone to SAD. Dr. Alfred Lewy at Oregon Health & Science University estimates that  five percent of Portlanders suffer severely from SAD, while 15 percent are moderately affected. 

While symptoms of SAD are most often alleviated during the springtime, when daylight hours become longer again, there are many ways to combat it during the winter months, from homemade remedies to wellness sources at WU.

Healthline Media journalist Shelby Deering recommends that people experiencing SAD make themselves a “comfort kit,” or a list of activities, products and techniques that they can turn to during the winter months. Outdoor activities, such as walks, have been proven to improve mood, increase energy and relaxation. Social activities allow for time to de-stress and leave one’s house as well. During the winter time, activities such as ice skating, going to coffee shops or hosting a holiday party can make the dark days seem brighter. 

Physical objects that serve as a source of comfort are simple ways to combat SAD. Deering suggests investing in items that produce a soothing scent or induce relaxation, such as bath salts and candles. Being comfortable and warm during the winter months can be easily achieved through fuzzy socks and warm blankets. 

Full-spectrum lights have been proven to boost mood during the winter when sunlight is limited. These are often seen in the form of a “Happy Lamp,” a bright light that imitates the sun. Sitting in front of full-spectrum lights can be an effective substitute to exposure to natural sunlight. Full-spectrum lights can be purchased as a light bulb or a Happy Lamp. Looking at or sitting near the light for as little as an hour a day can relieve SAD symptoms. 

Students who are wishing to try out a Happy Lamp but are unable to purchase one can visit the Bishop Wellness Center’s Mind Spa, which provides students a chance to relax in a massage chair with the option of turning on and sitting in front of a Happy Lamp. There are also happy lights in the back of the Hatfield Library and some available for check-out at the circulation desk. 

The Mind Spa also contains a computer installed with a program designed to enhance relaxation through activities that allow students to focus on their breathing. The Mind Spa operates with a first come, first serve basis, offering students a 30-minute session, scheduled via walk-in or by phone. The Mind Spa is free to all students.

Along with the Mind Spa, Bishop now offers walk-in appointments until the end of the semester, giving students immediate access to resources rather than having them sign up online or via phone. 

Meditation and mantras, two effective techniques recommended by Deering, can be practiced at any time. Cambridge Dictionary defines meditation as “the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.” Meditation can be practiced through various apps or by simply sitting down in a quiet, comfortable place and focusing on one’s breathing. Apps such as Insight Timer and Virtual Hope Box provide guided meditation that can help with relaxation. YouTubers such as The Honest Guys assist with meditation as well, featuring videos that focus on mindfulness, sleep, muscle relaxation and deep breathing. 

Regardless of what motivates a person, there are countless ways students can combat SAD this winter season. It is important for people to recognize it and apply these methods in order to make their winter season more cheery and less dreary.

szelen@willamette.edu

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