Now that Thanksgiving has passed and snow has fallen, we officially have four months before spring’s sunshine makes Binghamton Instagram-worthy once again. For the most part, winter is appreciated for holidays, snowball fights, the Olympics and 25 days’ worth of feel-good ABC Family movies. However, even with all of these great things, wintertime also means less daylight, limited travel and a sky that is almost constantly a subtle tribute to “Fifty Shades of Grey.” It’s no wonder that every year around November people claim to develop the “winter blues.” As the last leaves fall, you can hear people complain about crankiness, change in attitude and just a general feeling of being down.
“I feel like when the weather is consistently gloomy, it takes a negative toll on my attitude and my personality,” said Christopher Smart, an undecided sophomore. “I guess everyone is more closed off; everyone is really cold, literally and figuratively.”
Feeling depressed, lethargic or hopeless are just a few of the symptoms of this extremely common condition. Called winter-onset seasonal affective disorder (coincidentally abbreviated SAD), this condition rears its head once a year during the cold weather months. Those with SAD might be nervous, apathetic and prone to oversleeping and weight gain. They might find that they are constantly craving carbohydrate-filled foods, have much less energy than usual and have difficulty concentrating.
Since so many of those symptoms match depression symptoms, what makes SAD distinct? And more specifically, what is it about winter that can bring it on? Professor Brandon Gibb, the director of the Binghamton Mood Disorders Institute, said that SAD is most commonly attributed to a lack of sunlight. As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, people find themselves in the dark much more often. This can mess with your body’s natural rhythm, leading to such feelings of depression.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this disorder can be attributed to reduced levels of body chemicals. Amounts of serotonin, a chemical linked to mood, can be decreased through less contact with sunlight, possibly contributing to SAD. Melatonin, a chemical linked to sleep cycles and mood, is known to create disturbances in sleep patterns and disposition at the change of seasons, perhaps making this another great factor.
Another explanation for SAD is that the winter isn’t exactly the greatest inducer of social behavior. People tend to stay inside more and interact with others less. On a day that you might normally go to an event or go Downtown, you’ll be more likely to stay in due to impending bad weather.
“Being that it’s colder, I tend to be inside more,” said Joseph Rodriguez, a freshman majoring in integrative neuroscience. “I’m not generally hanging out with friends. It makes me think more when I’m inside … and the time that I am outside is when I’m running to class or to the library.”
For those who suffer from this annual ailment, the beginning of winter can seem like the start of a long uphill trek. It’s important to note that just because it’s only seasonal, it’s no less serious than year-round depression. Some treatments for SAD are the same used to treat clinical depression. These can include anti-depressants, psychotherapy and meditation, among others.
However, due to the specific nature of this condition, there are some treatments that cater specifically to the change in sunlight and atmosphere. Light therapy is often used, where a patient sits near a special box made to emit something akin to outdoor light. While this solution has been known to be quick and effective, there are other options for those without access to such a treatment. There are many easy ways to improve your winter experience. Open curtains and blinds; allow sunlight in wherever you are. Exercise has been known to increase mood, so go for a run outside, getting some real sunlight and your daily workout in simultaneously.
We have to push through until April, when we can finally all revel in lax pinnies and flip-flops. Winter has to last for three months, but seasonal affective disorder doesn’t. Nobody should have to suffer, so make the changes necessary to get you through the cold weather. In the blink of an eye, “#springhamton” will be here again!
If you or a friend need to speak with someone, the University Counseling Center can be reached at 607-777-2772.