The winter blues can be more than just craving the sun gracing its presence at your desk when you’re working, which can make the stress of academic life a bit more bearable. For some, weather marked by cloudiness, little light, and a drop in temperatures affects them to the point of serious debilitation to both their academic and personal lives. This is known as seasonal affective disorder.
In light of a seemingly endless bout of wintery weather, it’s understandable to find yourself in a bit of a funk. However, it’s important to be able to recognize when you’re dealing with something more, and recognizing that SAD is a treatable disorder.
SAD is essentially an exacerbated form of these winter blues. It’s a perpetual feeling of lethargy, problematic sleeping and eating, and a general reduction in focus. However, this form of clinical depression only occurs in the winter months, with the spring and summer months returning them to their normal functioning. The seasonal influence behind SAD is mostly due to the lack of light, according to Dr. Lam of University of British Columbia. This makes intuitive sense. I doubt I’m alone when I say that when the sun breaks through my window even on a pretty glum day, my spirits are instantly lifted. With those affected by SAD, the lack of light on a daily basis can actually disturb the biological clock responsible for keeping hormones in check and regulating sleep and mood. When winter strikes, this disturbance is aggravated, whereas in the spring and summer, with its glorious abundance of light, the biological clock may be closer to its normal functioning.
Understandably, Canadians are more perceptible to this disorder given the shorter day lengths in winter. You wake up to darkness, you have breakfast in darkness, get about eight hours of semi-blissful light shrouded in clouds, and then back to eating dinner in the dark. And for those of us with heating systems that are only barely functioning, wearing a couple layers on top of your hoodie can be the norm. Canadians have it rough in the winter.
As someone who originally hails from Vancouver, I’ve come to accept an impressive amount of consecutively rainy, grey days. In fact, sometimes I even enjoy the rain in a sort-of Norah Jones “I want to wake up with the rain falling on a tin roof,” type way. It can be inherently satisfying to stay inside when the rain or snow is refusing to let up. But as students, we often don’t have the privilege. We need to trek outside to our calculus class or psychology tutorial. Again, Canadians have it rough in the winter.
But some have it rougher than others. My mother has identified with SAD for as long as I can remember. Walking into her office, a light looms over her computer screen designed to simulate the sunlight missing from Vancouver’s winter season. Although glaring at first, your brain settles into the mindset that the weather doesn’t hold as much gloom and doom after all, even if it’s a trick. This is called light therapy, and according to Dr. Lam of University of British Columbia, it can usually promise a 60-70% improvement in those who suffer from SAD.
It’s difficult to differentiate between the blues and depression. There can be an undeserving stigma around depression as it is, resulting in many trying to keep their suffering quiet. Too many people dismiss depression as something that is a passing phase, but it has the potential to only be exacerbated when it’s pushed aside, as though your mental wellbeing is a lesser priority than whatever happens to be soaking up your attention, be it Facebook or homework.