Seasonal Affective Disorder Gets to the Bottom of the Winter Blues

You make the cold long walk to class, constantly bundling up with  infinity scarves and boots and realize that it’s that time of year again. It’s the middle of winter and all of a sudden Netflix and your warm bed are calling your name.

 You don’t want to go outside unless you absolutely have to. Why would you? That miserable few steps from your front door to the car, or from your dorm to class, trekking through snow, are the last thing on your mind. You ask yourself why you feel this pull to stay in your warm room. 

Maybe it is because your nose and ears are frozen any time you step outside. And then it definitely doesn’t help that your nose instantly drips from the bitter cold. Or could it be that when you look out the window at 5 pm, it really seems more like 8 pm? Whatever it is, you just want winter to end.

Some believe that the answer to these instances can simply be defined as “The Winter Blues.”  It’s the time of year where people have said that they feel like they’re in a “funk,” or seem as if they don’t feel as happy they normally could. 

Even though the “Winter Blues” may feel like a myth, there is something comparable to it called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). lists SAD as a “mood disorder associated with depression and related to seasonal variations of light.” 

SAD affects half a million people every winter between September and April, peaking in December, January, and February. The “Winter Blues,” a mild form of SAD, may affect even more people. 

Dr. Lisa Dinella, an associate psychology professor,  said,  “Although sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, SAD in its clinical form is different than just feeling a little out of sorts because of the cold weather. It is an actual subtype of a major depressive disorder.” 

Dinella continued, “SAD is a clinical diagnosis, used to identify individuals who experience depression that is linked to the changing of the seasons. It is most commonly experienced during the fall and winter months, and, although the field does not completely understand the mechanisms of SAD, research has linked it to changes in melatonin, serotonin and internal sleeping cycles, all of which may be linked to less sunlight during the fall/winter months.”

When asked about a change in moods during the winter months, Jamie Iannuzzi, a junior communication student, said, “I somewhat believe in the ‘Winter Blues’ because there’s not as much to do outside. I’m a very outdoorsy person and the temperature outside affects my day to day activities, even working out. I love to go for long runs, especially on the beach. In the winter it’s way too cold to run outside so I run on a treadmill.”

Getting out of the house and doing different activities may help combat cabin fever and this change in mood. 

Iannuzzi also said, “Life is what you make it. My housemates and I make conscious efforts to be outside as much as possible. There are still fun things you can do when it’s cold outside, like going skiing or tubing. I think it’s fair to say that the ‘Winter Blues’ exist, but how you handle it is up to you.”

Iannuzzi said there are ways to embrace this change of weather. Once the winter months come, the outdoors may seem dreadful but you can replace some of your outdoor activities with others. Ice skating, snowboarding, skiing and tubing are all outdoor activities that can help you get exercise and enjoy these winter months. 

Allie Phillips, a senior communication student, has seen a change in her mood because of the weather and has come up with her own way of combating her mood change. 

“I hate the snow so much, as soon as I step outside I’m instantly irritated because it’s cold and windy. I like to be comfortable so I stay inside and watch movies or something,” Phillips said. 

Phillips is a Resident Assistant (RA) on campus and is currently setting up a billboard in her hallway about the Winter Blues for her residents to learn about. 

Although Iannuzzi and Phillips have recommended ways to combat their winter changes, SAD is a depressive disorder that can be more intense than just the Winter Blues. 

Lindsey Pieschl, a senior psychology major, said, “Basically what happens is that the change in seasons brings a change in the amount of daylight we have. Because we receive less natural light to our brains some people start to produce an excess of the hormone melatonin. This can cause feelings of depression or the ‘winter blues.’ If you know anyone who has been diagnosed with this disorder, you can see the changes start to come along with the seasons changing. It can be really challenging to try to push through.”

Dinella said, “Young women with a family history of depression or SAD specifically may be at increased risk for SAD.”

So if you are feeling an overwhelming sadness because of the transition into dreary weather, fear not: you are not alone. According to ABC News, SAD will affect somewhere around five to ten percent of the population.  

“SAD is treatable. Some people find great help from increased exercise, light therapy, seeing a therapist regularly and some medication, or a combination of all of these. Making an appointment to see a therapist (we have great ones here at Monmouth University) is a great first step for individuals feeling symptoms of depression,” Dinella continued.

Other remedies for SAD actually include food. No, we’re not talking about “eating your feelings.” Nor are we talking about being snowed in and binging on junk food all day on your couch. 

Yes, there are actually legitimate foods that have the ability to fight off the winter blues (in a healthy way) and keep your energy levels high. The College section of USA Today recommends seven foods. These blues-beaters include: salmon, berries, milk, dark chocolate, bananas, oranges and nuts. Each provides a vitamin or nutrient that can ward off SAD.

First, salmon is high in omega-3s which helps to reduce depression. Berries limit the release of cortisol, which is a hormone that regulates stress. Milk has Vitamin D, just as sunlight does, which improves mood. Eating dark chocolate results in the body making phenylalanine, and an increase in the level of dopamine in the brain which blocks pain. Choose a higher cocoa percentage for this to be true. Because of the magnesium in bananas and nuts, they are a great source to reduce anxiety and improve sleep. The Vitamin C in oranges can also lower anxiety risks and provide immunity to sicknesses.

While the cold will remain for a bit longer, the blues do not have to. You just have to understand how to stay positive in the winter.

As Dr. Dinella noted, the University’s Department of Counseling and Psychological Services, located on the third floor of the Rebecca Stafford Student Center (RSSC), is open on weekdays for any student experiencing SAD or any other psychological issues.