Zachary Donnenfield | Mustang News

When the time comes time to put away the shorts and break out the winter coats, students often find themselves in a slump. With no motivation to go to class or go out, stress about midterms and finals can build. However, there are ways to beat these winter blues.

Something about winter just makes us tired and less productive. For some people, this feeling is more extreme and is an actual form of depression. The National Institute of Health calls this form of depression Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Symptoms and theories

Symptoms of SAD are typically similar to that of clinical depression, mostly concentrated around the winter months and dissipating in the spring. Hannah Roberts, Assistant Director for Community Prevention and Outreach Services at Counseling Services, confirms that this is no exception for Cal Poly students.

“During November through February months, we see more students reporting symptoms of depression more often,” Dr. Roberts said. “They are stronger during the winter months.”

Another factor that contributes to SAD and non-clinical winter blues is the academic stress of these winter months. Winter quarter comes with little to no breaks, just 10 weeks of rigorous workloads. Students often  feel the stress and workload pile up by
finals.

“Winter quarter is such a marathon with no breaks.,” Roberts said. “It all culminates in finals and people get burned out by the end. SAD symptoms can also appear during finals of fall. This has the potential to throw off your entire quarter, then it just spirals.”

It’s also common for students to lose their motivation due to this burnout. Graphic communication sophomore Mckenna Moura acknowledges the struggles winter quarter brings.

“I do feel a lack of motivation during the winter quarter,” Moura said. “There are more moments where it’s hard to keep a positive attitude about things in the winter quarter. Because of the weather I’m often stuck inside and can’t escape the study area  for work or anything.”

There are many theories as to why SAD persists during winter months more than anytime else in the year. Most point to the change in in natural light and temperature. Roberts has also seen students experiencing symptoms due to the way they go to class and do work.

“I try to talk to students about the byproducts of our modern lives,” Roberts said. “We are in seated positions in non-natural lighting all day. By the time classes are over and we head back home, it’s already dark outside.”

Getting up from your desk when studying and going out to get fresh air can be very beneficial for fending off winter blues and helping to lessen the effects of SAD.

Treatments and prevention

Like many health professionals, including the National Institute of Health, Roberts recommends exposure to natural light along with conventional ways of
fighting depression.

“Waking up early is a good way to maximize daylight intake,” Roberts said. “Even 15 minutes walking between classes can help. Exercise and activity can help. Light therapy is also an option.”

According to the National Institute of Health, recommended treatments for SAD include light therapy.

“Light therapy has been a mainstay of treatment for SAD since the 1980s … Symptoms of SAD may be relieved by sitting in front of a light box first thing in the morning, on a daily basis from the early fall until spring,” according to their website.

Even sitting by the window during class can help. Studies show that the intake of natural light has a positive impact on our mental state, so it’s important to get as much as possible during these winter months, when the sun is up less often and smothered by cloudy days.

Because the symptoms and causes of SAD are similar and related to depression, many of the things you do to prevent one can prevent the other. That means exercise and nutrition. Moura’s plan for de-stressing is as simple as taking the days as they come, and focusing on the little things.

Counseling Services is also always ready to tackle depression with students, and Roberts encourages anyone with symptoms to visit their Emotional Wellbeing Workshops. You can sign up for them at https://hcs.calpoly.edu/counseling/Emotional-Wellbeing-Workshops.

It’s important to recognize that the feelings and symptoms we all may experience can be seasonal, and that we don’t need to suffer through the winter months with stress and depression. Beating the winter blues can be as easy as getting a bit more sunlight.

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