Illustration by Nazanin Hosseinmardi
Note: This article is not to be taken as medical advice.
As winter comes, the city is clothed anew: a white dress coloured with city lights. The change of season is a new beginning for many people.
But for some, this beginning is not a happy one. Surrounded by chilly weather, some people will start feeling blue and depressed, and their daily routines will be interrupted. This may be due to seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a kind of depression that is triggered when the season changes, usually from fall to winter when the days get shorter. Approximately 2 to 3% of Canadians experience this, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
In general, people at high risk of seasonal depression are women (relative to men) and younger adults (relative to older ones). This suggests that college students—especially female college students—are more prone to develop seasonal depression.
That makes sense. In addition to abnormal levels of the hormones melatonin and serotonin, another contributing factor to seasonal depression is thought to be the lack of sunlight. This leads to insufficient production of vitamin D, which is important to maintaining the levels of dopamine (the happy hormone) in the brain.
And many students tend to study or socialize until late hours. Others may attend online courses or only have classes past noon. All students with these lifestyles may be more vulnerable to seasonal depression due to reduced chances to go out and get sunlight (already very limited during winter).
So, make sure to monitor your mental health this season by watching for common signs and symptoms of seasonal depression. For instance: anxiety, fatigue, a lack of concentration, reduced levels of interest, sleep problems, weight gain or loss, a sense of hopelessness, and mood swings.
You can also explore ways to boost your mood and support yourself this winter and beyond. Read on for what you can try.
1. Adjust and enrich your schedule
Keep a healthy, regular daily routine including mealtimes and bedtimes. You can add physical activities to your daily routines such as yoga, gym exercises, and dancing. Doing these activities with your friends can be more fun and productive.
When it snows, you can call your friends, grab hot cups of coffee together, and enjoy the outdoors while sipping the drink. Socializing in different clubs and reading books in the library can also provide good mental support.
2. Seek resources
If you are dealing with exams and need to catch up, speak to your instructor during office hours or join a group study session.
If you need access to food, check out the food hub and food hampers available from the BCIT Student Association. You can also get support from the food bank or eat fresh fruits from the fridge on the second floor of SE2 on the Burnaby campus.
3. Take time to reflect
After a day full of classes, stretch and let your mind be free of everything. Live in the moment. If you are drinking tea, think about how it tastes. While walking on the crosswalk, look at the colour of the piles of leaves. If it is raining outside, wear a coat with the colour you like. If you are going to meet a friend, tell them how beautiful they are. This will not only make them feel good, but you will, too. Transferring good feelings is a great way to gain more positive energy.
You can also consider journaling, which can help you prioritize your tasks. Write letters to yourself and point out what you like the most about yourself. Mention your achievements and smile when you look in the mirror. Start working on a bucket list and add what you always wanted to do. As you write, you can transfer your thoughts and emotions onto the paper, helping you feel relaxed and calm.
To conclude, seasonal depression has become a recognized health problem. You can avoid and manage it by using the self-help methods above. Give support to family members and friends who demonstrate signs of mood changes. If your or someone else’s condition becomes serious, further treatment is needed.
Canadian Mental Health Association. “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” Seasonal Affective Disorder. Accessed November 20, 2022. https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/.
Melrose, Sherri. “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches.” Depression Research and Treatment 2015 (2015): 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/178564.
“Seasonal Affective Disorder.” CMHA British Columbia, 2013. https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/.
“Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, December 14, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651.
“Vitamin D Deficiency and Seasonal Depression.” Vitamin D Deficiency and Seasonal Depression | Centura Health, March 4, 2022. https://www.centura.org/story/vitamin-d-deficiency-and-seasonal-depression.