by Cam Lawrence
art by Catherine Ferguson
At this time of year, when we wake up in the morning to get ready for school, the sky is still dark. We eat breakfast and get into our cars to head to school. It is still dark. Then, we spend about eight hours inside a building, and on many days, when we look out the window, we still see a dark sky. Finally, the school day is over, and we get to head home. But guess what? The sky is still dark. All of this darkness affects our minds and tends to make us more exhausted, sad and gloomy.
Our problem is SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. This disorder means that as the months get colder and darker, the moods of those with this disorder tend to lower into a depressive state. Some people suffer from the “winter blues,” which has similar symptoms but they don’t present as consistently for as long. Winter blues can happen at any point in time and is affected by anything. SAD occurs during a change in seasons and there are a lot more intense symptoms that come with it. SAD is different from disorders like depression. SAD can be used loosely as a term and it can also be a clinical diagnosis.
One way to combat both the “winter blues” and SAD is to be more intentional about getting more exposure to sunlight. Melatonin, which is a hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycle, is stimulated by darkness. During the winter months, our body is shocked by an increase in melatonin, causing us to feel more lethargic and exhausted.
As students, we tend to be inside most of the time during the day. In fact, we are in the classroom for seven and a half hours, five days a week. Mrs. Parker, the high school guidance counselor, said, “I do not notice more students coming in [during this time of year], but I do notice they often will talk about their feeling down not being helped by the dreary weather and shorter days during the winter months. The inability to get outside and experience the sunshine is a big factor in seasonal depression. School does limit the ability to go outside and therefore can be a contributing factor to depression. Sunshine and longer days are big boosts to how a person feels — there is a link between daylight exposure and serotonin (a chemical in the brain that is associated with positive feelings) levels in people.”
There is no cure for seasonal depression. As Gen X-ers would say, we have to “tough it out.” As we are pushing through, there are ways to prevent the depression from getting any worse. The most important way would be to get plenty of exercise and movement. Instead of giving into the melatonin-filled brain that wants to be lethargic, working out will release endorphins in our bodies. These endorphins are known as “pain relievers” and “happiness bringers.”
Social interaction is also key during winter months. Getting involved in a club, sport or even making plans with friends on the weekends would be much healthier for us rather than laying around in our beds watching Netflix.
Health and Wellness teacher Ms. Seebeck said, “The winter season will do its thing—grey skies, little sunlight and the loss of Daylight Savings Time creates a feeling of ‘always waking up and going to sleep in the dark.’ So, there’s not too much we can do to prevent these things. We can, however, intervene and mentally prepare ourselves for the winter months with a plan to keep ourselves mentally stable.”
For & By Students
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