Ah, winter in Evanston. We all love the festivity of the holiday season and the sparkle of freshly fallen snow can’t be beat. Winter can be beautiful and photogenic, but we all knew that – by coming to Northwestern – we signed up for long months of cold, dark weather. Winter quarter is notorious for dragging on in what can start to feel like days full of darkness. Daily 5 p.m. sunsets disrupt our bodies’ internal clocks and can make us experience feelings of depression. The serotonin levels in our brains start to drop when the atmosphere is cold and dark, and this can trigger extreme sadness. If you feel like your mood drops from a 10 to a 6 or even a 4 during winter quarter, you’re not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately abbreviated to SAD, affects 6% to 20% of Americans, ranging from minor mood changes to acute SAD. If you feel like you have the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, consider talking to a specialist. Feeling sad in the winter is very common, but SAD is a real mental illness that requires attention and care. Diagnosed SAD or not, if you feel as drab as the weather, you’ve come to the right place. NBN has gathered the best tips and tricks for making SAD less sad!
Let there be light: Seasonal Affective Disorder Lamps
The Seasonal Affective Disorder therapy that gets the most attention is for sure the lamp that was created for the very purpose of treating SAD. I know what you may be thinking: “How can looking at a lamp help to treat a mental illness?” Well, when we only get up to nine hours of light per day, sitting in front of one of these special lamps for 30 minutes can actually trick your brain into thinking that it’s light out! Crazy, right? Let’s get technical. The bright light stimulates retina cells that are attached to the hypothalamus. This part of the brain is in charge of circadian rhythms, so looking at the light at the same time every day as therapy really does work.
Lavender breeze, take me away: Aromatherapy
What could be more relaxing than smelling aromatic and calming lavender, bergamot and chamomile? Scientist Robert Tisserand shares that aromatherapy is a very effective strategy in coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression. If you’re wondering how to get your olfactory fix, there are many ways to incorporate these helpful and healthy scents into your everyday life. In the shower, you can drop some essential oils onto a washcloth and place it on your chest. The heat and steam of the shower mixed with the aromatherapy will calm your mind and relax you, I promise! Also, incense and essential oil diffusers can spread those good vibes into your dorm room.
Part of the reason we’re depressed in the winter is because we’re not moving enough. When it’s below freezing outside and SPAC is at least a 10-minute walk away, it’s understandable that you might not have the motivation to make the trek and work out. But, pushing past that initial feeling and breaking a sweat for 30 minutes will do WONDERS for your Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms! Exercising releases happy, little endorphins and takes your mind off of your winter-induced worries. Regularly exercising can kick SAD out of the picture.
Inhale that fresh air
This seems counterintuitive because the conditions outside are the reason for feeling down in the first place, but taking advantage of those few daylight hours is very helpful for the winter blues. Feeling the sun on your skin and taking walks outside with a friend for a study break doubles as a great way to flood your system with vitamin D and fresh air.
Maintain a regular sleep schedule
Out of all of these tips, this one might be the hardest to follow for a busy, swamped Northwestern student. Part of the reason SAD is so sad is that it makes you have trouble sleeping and in turn, makes you sluggish at inconvenient times of the day. Going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time regulates that circadian rhythm. Just this little change will tell your body when to be tired and when to be energetic. If you need help falling asleep, turn your A.C. down a couple of notches to make your body crave the zzzzzz’s.
We want the D: Vitamin D supplements
Last but not least, combat a case of the winter slump by taking vitamin D supplements. A bottle of them is less than $5 at CVS, and can really boost your mood in the winter because vitamin D is the vitamin we extract from sunlight. Your brain’s receptors for vitamin D act to fight depression when activated, so get on that supplement lifestyle!
Hopefully, these tips will help you bring brightness and sunshine into these wintery days. Of course, these tips are not guaranteed to cure mental illness by any means, but they can still help relieve anyone of some of the symptoms of winter blues! NBN wishes you the best of luck in your defense against the dark forces!