As we enter the fall and winter months, it is crucial to recognize seasonal affective depression (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year, which usually tends to be the winter months due to the lack of sunlight during this time. There are more than 3 million cases per year of SAD, ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms usually include fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawal(6). Although the fall and winter months can be gloomy, there are several ways to fight SAD and keep your mind healthy.
Professionals suggest a few ways to fight SAD, which include therapy, such as light therapy, talk therapy, and medication. They also recommend self-care such as physical exercise. OB Coordinator at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center, Allyson Freda, RN, BSN, IBCLC, speaks on the matter by stating “exercise definitely can help since it releases endorphins which make you feel good.” She also explains that “medication is probably the last resort since no one wants to be on medication unless absolutely necessary.”
In addition to professional methods, other activities that SAD sufferers could try include journaling, going for a walk while listening to music, arts and crafts such as painting, reading, and physical exercise. Allyson Freda confirms, “these are all great ways to deal with depression.” These activities can help encourage creativity and mindfulness during gloomy days. Recent Monmouth University graduate, Kyra Stroz, favors these methods by sharing that “exercise and reading helps me relieve stress and take my mind off life and just relax. It makes me feel calm and happier.”
Journaling can be a great way to express one’s thoughts and feelings onto paper to encourage positive self-talk and identify negative thoughts. Freshman student at Mercer County Community College, Jordyn Freda, explains “with my depression I seem to do a lot of journal writing and crafts while listening to music to take my mind off things.” Some benefits of journaling that can help students specifically include improving mental health, encouraging self-confidence, inspiring creativity, boosting memory, and helping achieve goals. While journaling, identifying goals and fears can help one understand themself better and acknowledge what can be done to improve their life.
Another beneficial activity for fighting SAD is going for a walk while also listening to music. Music “triggers the release of neurochemicals that can help boost our mental health” (5). It releases dopamine, the “happy hormone,” and increases the body’s mood stabilization. Music has a great effect on the brain, and recent findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explain that “dopamine- a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in our cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning- plays a direct role in the reward experience induced by music” (7). Music evokes pleasure and promotes emotions.
In addition, walking increases the blood flow and circulation to the brain and body, therefore boosting one’s mood (4). This combination can be a relaxing yet effective way to keep one’s mind and body healthy during the winter months.
Walking is form of exercise which releases endorphins and makes you feel good, especially while listening to music, all the “happy hormones” come into play!
Arts and crafts, specifically painting, can be very therapeutic for those who feel the need to clear their mind. Painting “allows the mind to focus on the images at hand and on nothing else (3).” From personal experience, painting allows your mind to focus solely on what is right in front of you. Painting can alleviate anxiety and depression while providing more self-confidence and engagement.
A common way to escape from a dull reality is by reading. Although one can do the same by watching television or scrolling through social media, reading is much more beneficial for your mind. Reading can be therapeutic by “increasing self-awareness, improving self-esteem, and aiding the ability to face developmental crisis.” (2). Reading can be useful to aid in “treatment of depression, mild alcohol abuse, anxiety, eating disorders, and communication issues.” Finding a specific genre or author you like can make reading much more enjoyable and the benefits that come from it will keep your mind sharp.
Last but certainly not least, physical exercise is one of the best forms of self-care, for not only your body but your mind. Exercise is a natural and very effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves stress and tension and promotes self-esteem and cognitive function(1). Exercise is a proven mood booster as it increases endorphin levels. Putting 30 minutes of physical exercise into your everyday routine will provide a significant difference in the way you go about your life. It will allow you to think more clearly and have a more positive attitude facing your days.
Seasonal affective depression is very common among students. It is important to recognize this and encourage positive behaviors and thoughts through healthy outlets. Although the holidays are an exciting time for some, there are others who may struggle and need creative ways to promote mindfulness in their lives. These activities are varied so they may be applied to a large audience. There is something for everyone and it is essential to provide self-care to keep your mind calm and peaceful during gloomier times.
- Sharma, Ashish, et al. “Exercise for Mental Health.” Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Physicians Postgraduate Press, Inc., 2006, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/#:~:text=Exercise%20improves%20mental%20health%20by,self%2Desteem%20and%20cognitive%20function.&text=Exercise%20has%20also%20been%20found,self%2Desteem%20and%20social%20withdrawal.
- Team, GoodTherapy Editor. “Bibliotherapy.” GoodTherapy, GoodTherapy, 5 Sept. 2016, https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/bibliotherapy.
- Health Fitness Revolution. “Top 10 Health Benefits of Painting.” Health Fitness Revolution, 16 July 2020, https://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/top-10-health-benefits-painting.
- “How Walking Can Benefit Your Mental Health.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/mental-benefits-of-walking.
- Front Row Music. “The Musical Life: How Music Promotes Positive Mental Health and Healing.” Front Row Music, 6 Apr. 2022, https://frontrow-music.com/the-musical-life-how-music-promotes-positive-mental-health-and-healing/.
- “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 14 Dec. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651.