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How to get over the winter blues

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By Russell J. Oliver

1/26/16


The winter can be a very dull and cold time of year, especially in areas with such unpredictable weather patterns like New York. With months of cold and snow it’s easy to stay inside for prolonged periods of time to avoid the icy chills. This leads to some people becoming more isolated during the winter months, losing touch with friends and not having the same lifestyle they normally would. This can cause what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder affects people the same way that we think about clinical depression,” said Joyce Dewitt-Parker, the coordinator for consultation at the University at Albany.

Dewitt-Parker explained that some symptoms of SAD are fatigue, sleeping more than usual, sadness, and losing interest in activities. Craving foods is also a symptom, which can be difficult for people during the holiday season. While people with clinical depression suffer at different times of the year, those with SAD only suffer during the winter months.

“SAD can be a problem because it affects us when we have less sunlight, when it’s cold outside and you’re not out as much in the summer,” Dewitt-Parker said. “Typically people are most affected from the end of October, before we shift our clocks, until we shift our clocks back again in the spring.”

According to “Psychology Today,” it’s estimated that more than 10 million Americans are affected with SAD in the United States – primarily located in the Northeast. Outside of that, 10 to 20 percent are diagnosed with a more mild form of SAD, known as “winter’s blues.” The illness tends to begin around the age of 20. SAD is more common the farther north you live.

As prevalent as the disorder can be, there are many ways to counterattack the symptoms. Doing things like going outside and staying active is beneficial. Getting as much sunlight as possible is also crucial.

“That’s why one of the best treatments for SAD is light therapy,” said Dewitt-Parker. “That’s basically daily exposure to very bright artificial lights during the months that people are most affected.”

Getting less sunlight means a lack of exposure to Vitamin D, which can be harmful to our bodies. Eating healthy is also important for those who suffer from SAD. Having a balanced diet and eating hearty foods such as fruits and vegetables is important. People with this disorder can also isolate themselves during the cold months.

“We suggest one way to manage SAD is to spend more time with family and friends, being active, and seeing a psychologist if a student has considered that they might have seasonal affective disorder,” said Dewitt-Parker.

Those suffering from SAD this winter may be feeling fewer symptoms because of the lack of snow and chilly temperatures this year.

“People are able to get out a little more because the weather has been better,” said Dewitt-Parker. “It is getting a little light and so for people who have SAD many of them are finding a relief from that.”

Dewitt-Parker urged students to come to the Counseling Center rather than self-diagnosing themselves. They could speak to a psychologist and get diagnosed for SAD.

“In terms of how we feel here, it should be no different for someone to seek help and support if they are feeling depressed or anxious, than if you were to see a physician because you have a sore throat or the flu,” Dewitt Parker said. “It should be no different.”

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