Scientifically bad for you, 6 months a Year: An Investigation into Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Ask anybody how they’re feeling once the last of the autumn leaves have fallen, the sky has turned a washed out grey and time spent outside is solely reserved for emergencies, and the majority will probably answer with a blunt “pretty shit thanks, you?”

8 times out of 10, they’ll most likely be having a bit of a whinge, somewhere along the lines of “how bad was that tute” and “can you even believe the queue at Coffee Grounds”. In other words, winter sucks, but so does any situation that’s freezing, muddy, and boring, so what else would you expect?

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, for the other 20%, feelings of depression and anxiety during winter might actually be caused by winter itself. These feelings of depression do not just happen to occur coincidentally with the season change, but are actually due to a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

One of the better-named medical conditions, SAD is pretty self-explanatory. A type of depression occurring in late autumn and winter, Beyond Blue describes its symptoms to include a lack of energy, sleeping too much, overeating and craving carbohydrates. In reality, these ‘winter blues’ exist on a spectrum of emotional and behavioural problems, from waking up cheerful rain or shine, to struggling to an almost debilitating degree.

Think you might fit the 20%? (And not just because you’re dreading your 9am tutes in semester 2). There are steps you can take.

The first is to make your environment brighter. Open your blinds, spend more time by your windows, or even invest in an artificial light box. Other than looking a little like a window into another dimension, these boxes have been proven to be as effective as antidepressant medication. Using them to simulate dawn will also help lengthen your daylight hours, imitating warmer summer months and tricking your brain into thinking that the white walkers aren’t actually almost at your doorstep (thanks Canberra).
Additionally, good nutrition can’t be understated. Luckily, that includes dark chocolate which can help enhance your mood and relieve anxiety as it contains chemicals which release feel-good chemicals, something uni students and the general population have been putting into practice for a long time now. So go ahead and finish that block of Cadbury, it’s good for you.

You’ve also got permission to blast Rihanna to your hearts’ content. According to a paper published by the University of Missouri, listening to upbeat music can significantly improve your mood in both the short and long term. Add some dance moves or other forms of exercise under bright lights and you might see your general mental health, social functioning, depressive symptoms and vitality improve.

If your happiness levels have been decreasing as steadily as the mercury on your thermometers, helping others might also be an answer. As cliché as it might sound, volunteering time is closely tied to feeling more satisfied with life. Maybe joy really is hiding at the bottom of a soup kitchen or a year 11’s maths textbook.
Finally, brave the cold and get outside. Try and catch a duck, walk up Black Mountain and lie on the grass. As exposed in an article in ‘Scientific Reports’, visits to outdoor green spaces of 30 minutes or more during the course of a week, could reduce the population prevalence of seasonal depression and high blood pressure by up to 7% and 9% respectively.

It’s pretty normal for winter to get a bad rep, but that shouldn’t come at the price of your health. Know the limits to self-help, and if you find yourself unable to shake the winter blues, consult a doctor or psychologist.
If all else fails, remember that spring is always around the corner, and with it far better days – though entertaining tutes and amazing coffee might still not be guaranteed.