Since the days are shorter and it may be dark when you leave campus for the day, are you finding yourself increasingly irritable, sluggish, and craving carbohydrates? If so, you could be experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “SAD is a depression that occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall, worsening in winter, and ending in spring.” It is more than just the “winter blues” or “cabin fever.” Seasonal Depression occurs when our bodies have decreased exposure to sunlight, and the internal biological clock that regulates mood, sleep, and hormones is shifted. As stated above, these symptoms may include the following: sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of interest, social withdrawal, concentration difficulties, extreme fatigue and low energy, increased need for sleep and craving for carbohydrates with accompanying weight gain.
It is important that you listen to these internal cues and that you consult with trained professionals for assistance. Although your subjective input is vital to your diagnosis; you may need to seek medical and/or mental health services for an evaluation. A medical assessment can determine whether your symptoms are due to a medical diagnosis such as fatigue, anemia, a virus, thyroid malfunction, or an electrolyte imbalance. Once you are cleared medically, and a medical reason for your symptoms can not be determined, you would be referred to a mental health provider. A mental health provider such as a psychologist or counselor can evaluate your pattern of symptoms, determine the frequency and intensity of what you are experiencing, and identify whether you are experiencing SAD or another type of mood disorder such as Major Depression.
If a diagnosis of SAD is deemed to be present, then your mental health provider will work with you to identify healthy ways to cope with symptoms. The NIH suggests the following:
• Spend some amount of time outside every day, even when it’s very cloudy. The effects of daylight are still beneficial.
• Eat a well-balanced diet and include sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This will help you to have more energy even though your body is craving starchy and sweet foods.
• Exercise for 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
• Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. This can be a tremendous means of support during winter months.
If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of SAD, please visit Loyola’s Student Health Services clinic in the basement of the Danna Student Center or call (504) 865-3326 to make an appointment. Loyola’s University Counseling Center is also available to help and is located on the second floor of the Danna Student Center in room 208 and can be reached by phone for an appointment at (504) 865-3835.