Weekly Wellness: What you need to know about seasonal affective disorder

File- Season Affective Disorder occurs most often during the winter. (Jason Jiang/ The Daily Campus)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is “a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons.” This disorder occurs most commonly in winter, when the weather starts getting colder and darker, and much less commonly at the start of spring and summer.

SAD is more prevalent than you may think. A lot of people are unaware that they suffer from SAD. Some of the symptoms felt by those affected include low energy, problems sleeping, feelings of depression, loss of interest in activities, weight gain and difficulty concentrating.

College students might experience this even more often because they’re away at school and most likely walking everywhere on campus in cold winter months. Adapting to weather changes is difficult because that’s just how our bodies are wired. Humans are meant to maintain homeostasis: when that state is disrupted and our inner workings are disturbed, we begin to feel the effects.

This is common even for people who have lived in Connecticut or anywhere with changing seasons. You may have experienced winter many times before, but that doesn’t change the fact that your body gets accustomed to the summer and fall months. In more extreme cases, SAD can even trigger physical reactions, such as vomiting. It’s important to be as in tune with your body as possible when the seasons begin to change so that you can take good care of yourself.

The root cause of SAD is unknown because there are likely many factors contributing to this disorder. One such factor is reduced sunlight. In the winter, it gets darker much earlier and the sun shines much less. Because our bodies need vitamin D, the lack of sunlight can really affect you. This is why it’s important to take vitamin D supplements during the fall and winter months. A decrease in serotonin levels is also a factor. This might occur due to of lack of sunlight or another chemical occurence within your brain.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects our mood. When levels decrease, we tend to experience symptoms of depression. The change of season itself is the final factor. As stated before, the fact that it’s getting darker earlier is a huge contributor. Seasonal changes also can alter our sleep schedules. If you don’t get enough sleep or can’t fall into a deep sleep, you’ll probably feel tired, rundown and unhappy.

Personally, the cold changes my entire mood and outlook. Some people feel the cold more intensely than others due to how their body reacts. Certain studies say that you’ll feel less cold if you have more body fat. There is also evidence that women tend to feel colder than men. This all has to do with how our bodies are individually made up. Being cold can often cause a change in mood and symptoms of SAD.

Though SAD is something many people struggle without knowing the root cause, there are some precautionary measures you can take to feel the symptoms less intensely. Take vitamin D during the fall and winter months to boost your mood and serotonin levels. You can also wear a heavy, warm coat to keep out the cold. Keeping busy and surrounding yourself with people you love will help take your mind off negative feelings. And of course, staying hydrated and in tune with your body helps you to be mindful of any SAD symptoms.


Tessa Pawlik is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at tessa.pawlik@uconn.edu.