by Sofie Velkova and Alex Gliwinski
A month ago Poland ended daylight savings, plunging us into the depths of Winter and the darkness it entails. In just three weeks, on December 21, it will be the Winter Solstice which officially commences the beginning of Winter. And yet, for lots of us we’ve been in the thick of it for the past month as the days get progressively shorter and shorter. Maybe for you it’s been a lack of motivation, or a need for more sleep, or just a general weight that you seem to lug through life. Why exactly do lots of people experience this significant difference in our moods, just because the calendar flips another page and the weather changes?
Well, one theory would be seasonal depression. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression correlated to seasonal changes. For most, it begins during the late fall and drops their moods until the winter ends but for others they may face their symptoms in the summer.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact cause of SAD but Ms. Hasan, the DP Psychology teacher, explained that the current accepted theory is that the lack of sunlight disrupts your body’s internal clock along with production of key-mood related hormones like serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin stabilizes our moods and happiness while communicating with other parts of the body to improve its daily functions. Melatonin works in response to darkness and helps improve your sleep schedule by timing your circadian rhythms. Deficits or general changes in sunlight mean that everyone experiences a change in the production of these hormones but Ms. Hasan explains that how they play out in an individual will differ. The environment can impact different individuals in different ways.
“There’s a spectrum, in terms of severity. Each case needs to be looked at individually, rather than clumping everyone together,” Ms. Hasan says.
There are criteria by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that can place you somewhere on that spectrum. She explains that there is a more formal criteria for SAD including having depressive symptoms that begin and end during a specific season for every year for at least two years. However, even if you don’t meet this most formal criteria, it doesn’t mean you don’t experience it or its symptoms on some scale. In fact, some may find themselves on the lower end of this spectrum with subsyndromal S-SAD, a milder form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. The symptoms are interconnected between the two, except those of SAD are often much stronger than those of S-SAD.
The most common symptoms of SAD are loss of interest, feeling sad, changes in appetite, increased fatigue and sleeping, and even an increase in unnecessary and purposeless physical activity among other things. We surveyed a group of ASW students on the topic to grasp how they have felt the symptoms and presence of seasonal mood changes, and one hundred percent of those surveyed agreed to have felt the aforementioned symptoms to some extent. Everyone spoke to a lack of inspiration and increased tiredness with major social and academic changes reported. The common consensus was that as both students and friends, everyone felt unmotivated as they simply didn’t feel the energy to fulfill tasks and felt frequent mood changes that fell in line with the times between October and January, Poland’s darkest time of the year.
While we can’t stop the day’s from getting shorter, Ms. Hasan spoke to strategies that can at least help one experiencing seasonal mood changes.
“In psychology, there’s rarely going to be one approach, and my DP Psychology students know that we often look at issues from the biological, cognitive, and sociocultural perspectives. For SAD, there are lamps that have been created to give light therapy for those who are affected. For some, it may be about taking medication to help restore the balance of chemicals. It may also be about seeing a therapist to talk through what is happening cognitively. It may be a combination of all of the above. As I mentioned before, a lot of this, especially when it comes to solutions, needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis and catered to the individual,” Ms. Hasan explained.
Seasonal depression can have a very strong effect, leaving you feeling dreary and tired the majority of the time. There isn’t a set guideline for how people experience it or how to solve the problem but there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects we feel from seasonal changes. It could be meditation, supplements, light therapy lamps or a number of other strategies. But if you ever feel the symptoms of SAD a great solution is reaching out to a trusted adult or counselor. They can help you determine the best strategies for your symptoms or even just act as a source for release.