As the frost begins to settle in on our campus and November brings the freezing promise of winter, early nightfalls accompany a slightly dreary, melancholy ambiance. The lampposts lighting the Spine emit a soft glow, standing seemingly alone against the backdrop of a Binghamton frost; students are rushing to and from their late-night discussions, clutching onto their hot Jazzman’s for life support, distraught by the enveloping darkness as the clock tower strikes 5 p.m. It is during this time in particular that we all might find ourselves craving those few extra moments in bed, enveloped in thick blankets and dreams free of responsibility and stress. We might notice a less social mood, a persistent sadness or a heavier disposition. We might feel, with the exception of the joys of the holiday season, a personal struggle for motivation, inspiration and ambition. This phenomenon is more than just a feeling; it’s a biological reaction to the unwelcome environment.
Aptly named, this so-called ‘seasonal depression’ is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and can be recognized through symptoms of continuous low energy, hypersomnia, overeating, consequent weight gain, craving for carbohydrates and social withdrawal. If these characteristics should resemble anything, it’s that of a “hibernation,” a natural response to uninviting living conditions. In Binghamton especially, it’s important to notice these warning signs, as those at higher risk for this diagnosis are young adults who live further from the equator and have less exposure to sunlight — and as any Binghamton resident would know, our sunlit days are few.
A factor to explain this response to the changing seasons could be a highly sensitive circadian rhythm, or biological clock — the body’s natural, internal mechanism for telling time. Reduced levels of sunlight might enhance the effects of SAD by disrupting the body’s internal clock and leading to feelings of confusion and depression. Serotonin levels, neurotransmitter chemicals that play a role in modulating reward and happiness feelings among other mechanisms, can drop in response to reduced sunlight and may trigger depressive signs. Additionally, the change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
There are a few ways students can combat the symptoms of SAD. Outside of the recommended physical and mental exercises for overall well-being, students can aim to maximize exposure to sunlight or undergo light therapy, commit to a healthier diet, heighten their intake of vitamin D or use therapy techniques such as behavioral activation. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Behavioral activation seeks to help the person identify activities that are engaging and pleasurable, whether indoors or outdoors, to improve coping with winter.”
It is so important to understand that we are going through this together. There are so many things that we can do alone, and with one another, to support ourselves during this experience. Mental and physical exercises in encouraging and maintaining positivity are incredibly important. Remind yourself to take the time to breathe deeply, to go easy on yourself, to do what you need to make yourself feel more confident and to truly take care of yourself, however that may look to you. I promise, if that means meandering the home section of Target for a considerable amount of time designing the alternative-reality Brooklyn two-story brownstone you own, I would be the last to judge. Honestly, find the most effective unconventional act of self-care that can work for you and run with it — have a two-song mini dance party, take a 20-minute nap, find an animal of choice and ask to pet it, indulge in a homemade spa day or if none of these: Ask for help.
So get moving, let the sunshine in and surround yourself with the motivated, the inspired, the passionate and the grateful. Winter might be coming, but it isn’t here to stay.
Hannah Gulko is a senior majoring in human development.