As the leaves fall and the temperatures drop, so can your spirit. You may want to stay cocooned away in your bed without any socialization except for Netflix and TV re-runs.
It may well be more than the colder weather that’s affecting your mood. You might be dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), something that comes with lifestyle changes and shifts in the weather.
For the most part, SAD starts and ends around the same times every year, according to Heather Bickle, an outreach worker at the Campus Health Centre. She says often students affected by SAD feel it hit in the winter seasons, when the temperature drops and days shorten.
There is no definitive cause for why some people experience SAD, but the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) says it’s thought to revolve around a person’s internal biological clock. When the days are short and dark, our bodies can be confused as to when it is time for sleep.
Unlike the winter blues, SAD is a legitimate mental illness that falls in the same branch as depression, according to CAMH. They say SAD can drain your energy and you may notice irritability or mood changes you may not be able to control.
Bickle explains the difference between feeling the blues and having a serious seasonal issue.
“It’s okay to ride the blue wave sometimes. It’s OK due to change or something situational like a break up or move to be noticing some of these symptoms in you,” say Bickle. “Big kicker though, and one that is a warning flag, is if it’s going past that two week period, that’s when you really should reach out and get some support.”
Changes in life affect everyone differently, and sometimes the reason we can’t cope is not because of the incident itself. In fact, it’s not in your control at all, says Bickle.
But, although you can’t control the scope of your feelings sometimes, you can make a proactive effort to stay level-headed through proper diet, exercise, and relaxation techniques, recommends Bickle, adding that SAD can happen at any time of year.
“It’s not a winter depression, it’s a depression based on changes. Not only seasonal changes and weather patterns, but if you look at change in general, our food habits change,” she says.
Food habits can also change, as the temptations of holiday goodies mix with the heaping holiday dinners.
Sylvia Emmorey, a nutritionist with the Campus Health Centre, stresses the immunity-boosting powers of fruits and vegetables could make the difference in winter months.
When you’re already down in the dumps, all it takes is a nasty cold or flu to make you feel even more isolated and crummy. She suggests deep, dark vegetables and bright fruits, which are usually packed with crucial vitamins A, B, C, D, and E not usually found in bags of snack food or a diet comprised mostly of carbs.
Blueberries, raspberries, apples, bananas, and oranges are some of her highest recommendations.
She’s an especially big fan of berries.
“You can get the organic ones frozen, keep those on hand, and have them easily accessible and you can make smoothies.”
As well as aiming for a fresher diet, Emmorey suggests students budget health into their finances. Rather than spending money on the weekend nights out, spend some money on making sure your body is in tip-top shape. Proper nutrition, some exercise gear, and multivitamins can be your best weapons against feeling the full blow of SAD.
How to beat the blues, before the come.
- Small changes in diet can really add up. Here are some of Emmorey’s suggestions.
Sweet potato > regular potatoes
Spinach > iceburg lettuce
Apple > coffee
- Take some time off once in a while. Even if you can’t do an entire mental health day, a little break will lift some of your stress.
- Stay motivated! (Bickle suggests journaling, watching TED talks, and setting goals for yourself. If you don’t have motivation to keep accomplishing things, you can feel as though you’re in a rut.)
- Use the resources available. Outreach workers at the Campus Health Centre have many tools and techniques you can use. They’re also there to talk.
- Access Healthy Minds – an app that lets you submit your mood, and suggests breathing and coping tips. Learning to understand and manage some of these emotions can be starting steps to control over mental health.