Mental Health Tips For The Changing Seasons

Winter is coming to an end, which means students across campus have begun to scurry to the lawn like ants invading a picnic to enjoy the sun and warm temperatures. 

Even with the pressures of midterms and assignments weighing on them, students felt their moods improve significantly with the warmer weather. 

“I feel honored. It felt like life was being poured into my body,” junior McKinzie Marcus said about being in the sun. “It was amazing to be able to sit outside and feel the warmth instead of hurriedly walking through campus to get out of the cold.”

Spring weather can be a welcome change for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depression cultivated by the changing of the seasons. Many also suffer from the “winter blues.” 

There are many factors at play in depression: genetics, family history, stress levels, past traumas and so on. According to Dr. Brian Kelley, professor of psychology at Liberty, around 17% of the population are at high risk for SAD, which can intensify existing depression or develop on its own. 

“I think the dark days exasperate anxiety and make me feel disconnected from my environment,” senior Anna Bishop said. “Colors also help me feel connected, so I get particularly depressed when the leaves are gone. I think getting sunshine is really important.”

Each person feels the symptoms of seasonal depression differently. For some, they recognize it as depression, and for others, it hides under the shroud of a lack of motivation. Students also deal with symptoms in different ways, such as adding more structure to their lives. 

“I started setting goals for myself, like not allowing myself to leave the library until I finished a specific assignment,” sophomore Shae Riedinger said. 

Others prioritize spending time in nature. 

“I take walks on the days when it is sunny and make a point to thank God for the weather because if he made winter, there’s some natural benefit to it,” junior Alyssa Smith said.

According to Dr. Kelley, seasonal depression is linked to a lack of physiological stimulation. When someone wakes up, they need three things to fully awaken or rouse them for the day: food, exercise and light. 

“Get as much (stimulation) as you can in the morning,” Dr. Kelley said. 

During the fall and winter months, it can be difficult to get light as the sun rises much later in the morning. However, Dr. Kelley added that only two of the three components are necessary to function, meaning those who eat well in the morning and engage in activity can ward off SAD symptoms. 

For those who want or need to hit all three, they can purchase SAD lamps, which simulate natural sunlight.

Because schedules can be very inconsistent, college students often opt to sleep later, skip breakfast and drudge to sit in class rather than engaging in early physical activity. 

Simply waking up at a consistent time will help. 

Even in the winter months when the sun may not have risen yet, eating a small breakfast and taking a 20-minute walk before class can help students stay awake and ward off feelings of depression or lack of motivation. 

Even those who eat breakfast in the morning may not be choosing the right foods for proper stimulation. 

“Eat protein in the morning and complex carbs at night,” Dr. Kelley said. 

Eating protein will sustain the body throughout the day. Complex carbs, on the other hand, will provide a rush of energy and then a crash, resulting in a tired student trying to stay awake in class. Meat, eggs, peanut butter toast, milk and protein shakes are easy ways to get protein first thing in the morning. 

With the right routine and resources, students can take charge of their life by using SAD — sun, activity and diet — to deal with SAD — Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Hetzel  is a feature reporter. Follow her on Twitter

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