Staving off those pesky winter blues

By Elena Lopez

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

It’s that time of year again when the sky is gray, the ground is gray and everything else in sight is just plain old gray. Winter is the most common time of the year for people to slip into depressive bouts or suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The name may sound casual, but the disease is serious and can truly affect the quality of life of people who are diagnosed.

There are plenty of easy ways to keep your mood pleasant and spirit light as you trudge through the snow to your 8 a.m. lecture. Here are a few tips to keep you feeling content as the winter runs its course.

Normalize sleeping patterns
A healthy attitude starts with maintaining a normal sleep schedule, which means avoiding those late night cramming sessions as well as over-sleeping. Over-sleeping typically occurs when your body’s natural rhythm is off-balance and the brain tries to cope by telling the body to sleep more. Sleeping in excessive amounts can also be a sign of budding depression, which makes it all the more important to put effort into waking up earlier. To make the wake-up adjustment easier, try giving yourself motivation to get up, like treating yourself to a smoothie or coffee before class. Sometimes even the smallest change in routine can make a huge difference in your overall attitude.

Exercise regularly
Regular exercise helps your brain produce endorphins, the key hormones in maintaining an upbeat outlook. Any kind of physical activity helps, from a quick walk outside on sunny days to soak up some vitamin D to getting into a new gym routine. Keeping your body active prevents you from feeling lethargic, so now is the perfect time to sign up for that class at the rec center that you’ve been dying to try.

Lighten up your space
Keeping your room dark is an easy way to slip into some form of depression. For a reasonable amount of money, you can brighten up your dorm or room with a phototherapy lightbox. Used to treat SAD, lightboxes emulate the effect of natural sunlight, and researchers believe that about 30 minutes a day exposed to the lightbox can be therapeutic to overall mental health. If you’re not sure you need a lightbox, try simply adding some strands of holiday lights to your space to keep your room bright and welcoming.

Avoid junk food
Ordering food for delivery is easy when the temperatures are nearly below-zero and you have no desire to step outside for more than 10 seconds, but the indulgence of convenience just isn’t worth it in the long run. Foods laden in carbs, fat and sugar tend to get your mouth watering due to your brain producing lower levels of serotonin, and giving in to these cravings serves only as momentary happiness until the fatigue hits again and you’re more exhausted than you were before. Eating foods rich in vitamin C and D trigger feel-good hormones and keep your energy up so you feel ready to take on the world, starting by hitting up the gym and exercising frequently.

Talk it out
Undoubtedly, winter is one of the most common platforms for the onset of depression. American Family Physician estimates that 4-6 percent of people suffer from SAD, and another 10-20 percent suffer from milder forms. Depression is a serious mental illness and if it ever feels like more than you can handle, talking to friends or a professional can provide the necessary guidance to keep you on a track. It’s dangerous to keep depressive thoughts to yourself, as they often manifest into overwhelming and consuming obsessions that can grow too burdensome to handle alone. You can contact the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health on campus and schedule an appointment for evaluation and counseling if you are in need. Their phone number is (413) 545-2337, so don’t hesitate to make an appointment if you think you might need some help.

Winter is often the most difficult season to get through, but following these tips will make it seem like a breeze, letting you coast through second semester and stay on top of your game until the warm promise of spring.

Elena Lopez can be reached at [email protected]