TW: Discussions of depression
As Daylight Saving Time ends and winter quarter approaches, the days can definitely begin to feel short and gloomy. Thanksgiving break was supposed to be a time for me to finally settle down, relax for a few days and spend some time with friends and family; instead, I felt as if I were on the brink of a rather early quarter-life crisis.
With finals just around the corner, my ongoing cold and an endless pile of unfinished school work, one night during break, I suddenly felt my world crumble into pieces. Sure, I was overwhelmed. But this sinking feeling of helplessness combined with hopelessness began to weigh me down — it was all too familiar. If you’re like me, as soon as late fall rolls by, you can already sense a drowning wave of what many of us call the “winter blues.” However, this subtype of major depression, known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a reality.
This seasonal depression may occur during any season of the year, however, for most people, it strikes in late fall and extends into the winter months. Even amidst the holiday cheer, I often find that when it gets darker earlier in the day, I feel an air of gloominess and even lethargy. The shorter days and longer nights of this time of year are a major contributing factor behind SAD. When there’s less sunlight, our levels of serotonin (neurotransmitter) and melatonin (sleep hormone) drop, so naturally, our emotional and mental states may begin to lose their balance. When we experience reduced levels of serotonin, it is easy to fall into depression, and when we have less melatonin in our system, our biological clock does not function as effectively, causing a change in our sleeping patterns. In other words, these conditions can make us feel all-around moody and irritable.
Besides being irritable, when you have SAD during the winter, you can feel way more tired than usual despite a growing tendency to oversleep. You can also experience a change in appetite. I surprisingly lost my appetite for sweets, but generally, people with winter SAD tend to overeat starchy and sugary foods such as fries, cookies and pizza — basically all the foods that taste so good but are oh-so-bad. Symptoms vary from person to person; however, whether or not you are undergoing a case of winter SAD, it’s always important to slow down and simply take care of yourself.
One of the easiest and possibly most beneficial things to do if you have winter depression is to see the light in the world — figuratively and literally. Luckily, since we’re on the west coast, we get to relish in the abundance of sunny winter days. Even if it might be cold, go outside and soak up some vitamin D! Whether it’s taking a well deserved nap on Meyer Green or playing Frisbee with some friends at the Oval, spending more time in natural daylight can be an instant mood booster.
Since seasonal depression often causes us to develop unhealthy sleeping and eating habits, this is a time to be more mindful about our physical, mental and emotional health. Eating more greens and less junk food is a simple step to maintaining your energy levels up. Another way to boost your energy is to exercise! Finding what you like doing best, whether it’s hiking the Dish or biking around campus for at least 30 minutes a day, will help you reduce the stress that has been building up over time.
And finally, to take care of yourself emotionally, spend time with the people you love and the people that love you for who you are. Your friends can be a source of support for you during rough times, so go grab some coffee, and let them hear you out. Never forget that there are people who care about you and your well-being, so don’t be afraid to seek out help when you need it.
SAD is tough, especially when life seems to be doing anything but slowing down for you. Even if finals are stressing you out, remember that one test for one quarter of your four years here at Stanford will honestly not matter in the long run. You are human, and it’s absolutely normal to feel stressed and depressed once in a while. So if you’re feeling down in the dumps this winter, keep in mind that you are not alone. Seek the help, happiness and light you deserve in the world!
Contact Clarissa Gutierrez at cgutier ‘at’ stanford.edu.