Seasonal Affective Disorder

What to Expect and How to Prepare for the Upcoming Months at Reed

CW: Discussion of mental health

‘Tis the season for warm drinks, cozy sweaters, and weather-based mood slumps. With the joyous traditions of fall also come the devastating effects of what Pacific Northwesterners know and fear: seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

SAD is recognized by many as a staple of one’s experience while living in a place such as Portland. To some, SAD may sneak up on them towards the middle of the winter like a stealthy cat preying on the mouse that is their mental health, and others will do anything possible to prepare for the pounce. Whether that’s absorbing every sliver of sunlight possible, keeping busy and pursuing interests, or seeking professional psychological help, there are many paths a Reedie can take to fight SAD. 

Seasonal affective disorder is often thought of as a different beast to ordinary depression. The disorder itself, however, is quite similar, as it was renamed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health as “Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern.” This disorder can appear at any time of year, but most people experience it in the fall and winter due to reduced exposure to natural light. The resulting decrease of vitamin-D can disrupt one’s circadian rhythm and affect their mood. Vitamin-D promotes the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, and the lack of these important chemicals can result in the symptoms of both seasonal affective disorder and other forms of depression. These symptoms include difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, reduced enjoyment of previously enjoyable activities, fatigue, sadness, irritability, anxiousness, and food cravings for carbs and sweets. So when you find yourself carrying away multiple desserts from Commons each time you visit, it might be a manifestation of SAD. 

On a more serious note, if you notice yourself experiencing some or all of these symptoms, consider reaching out for help. A lot of people, especially those native to the Pacific Northwest, brush seasonal depression under the carpet. But the weather could have a serious influence on one’s ability to function. For serious cases, it is important to talk to a professional. For those just looking to prepare for the season, there are a plethora of techniques to keep the noggin in check.

First-year student Annabelle Stern sat down with the Quest to discuss some possible remedies to these infamous winter blues. As someone from Phoenix, Arizona, Annabelle has no personal experience with seasonal affective disorder. However, she is doing everything she can to prepare. In addition to discussing the existence of vitamin D sun lamps, Annabelle noted that “keeping in touch with interests and things that make you happy, and that you’re passionate about” is important. “For me personally, I want to make sure to keep exercising a lot, and not just get stuck in my dorm. I really want to keep dancing and doing rock climbing, so that I can get those endorphins going. Apparently that makes you happier.” 

Exercise can certainly serve as a great remedy for when SAD starts to set in, so whether you are someone who is involved in as many sports as possible, or just someone who occasionally goes on power walks around the canyon in between classes, keep up with it. In addition to exercising, there are some other things that you can integrate into your daily life to keep your days less blue. These can include surrounding yourself with friends, spending time outside, taking vitamin D supplements, keeping a journal, managing your diet, getting plenty of protein, and sticking to a schedule to show your circadian rhythm who’s boss. 

The effects of the Pacific Northwest climate can be a heavy burden for Reed students on top of the stresses of schoolwork. Although there is a lot a person can do on their own to fight seasonal depression, it is beneficial to seek psychological help if the problem is seriously debilitating. For now, embrace the changing seasons and do everything you can to not let the cloudy skies cloud your mind.

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