SAD Prevention: Got the Winter Blues? Give Yourself an Emotional Boost

Got the winter blues? You’re not the only one. SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, affects 10 to 20 percent of the population, and is more likely to affect women than men. SAD wrecks its havoc during the fall and winter, thanks to a shortage of sunlight. It can make you moody, tired, or just plain depressed.

Here in Corvallis, the reason isn’t just cloudy winter skies, but shorter days. According to Oregon State University’s Counseling & Psychological Services, OSU students are “particularly vulnerable to SAD because Corvallis is far enough north that January days are significantly short.” The average onset for the condition is age 23, and stress can aggravate SAD—another reason why students might suffer more. It also tends to run in families, and individuals diagnosed with clinical depression or bipolar disorder may be more susceptible. Luckily, there are ways to prevent and combat SAD:

-Increase indoor lighting: Open all of the curtains and blinds during the day, select housing with windows or skylights, and make sure that trees and bushes aren’t blocking your windows. Whether at home or at work, spend your time near the brightest windows.

-Phototherapy or light therapy: Sitting a few feet from a light box, a specialized, bright light designed to mimic sunlight, may help reduce symptoms of SAD. OSU students can use the Mind Spa’s SAD light or rent a light box through Student Health Service.

-Get actual sunlight: It’s out there. In Eastern Oregon, and occasionally even in Corvallis.

-Take a Vitamin D supplement.

-Stay active: Walk, jog, run, plan social activities, and don’t skip outings because of rain or clouds. Exercise also relieves stress and anxiety.

-Get outside: A cloudy sky may only provide half the brightness of a clear day, but it provides about 50 times more light than the average living room.

-Psychotherapy: A therapist might be able to help you discover the negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to your SAD, and teach you healthy ways to deal with stress and depression.

-Medications: If the symptoms are severe, your doctor might recommend an antidepressant or other medication to combat SAD. According to the Mayo Clinic, antidepressants commonly prescribed for SAD include Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Sarafem, and Effexor. If you have severe or recurring symptoms, ask your doctor about the best treatments for you.

-Finally: If you see the sun, run outside! If there’s a ray of sunlight out there during the winter months, make any excuse you can, but go take advantage of it. That strange, bright orb in the sky could disappear again at any minute.

by Jen Matteis