How College Students Can Beat SAD This Fall and Winter Semester



Have you experienced SAD? No, not sadness. SAD is short for ‘seasonal affective disorder’, a kind of seasonal depression usually linked with the short days and cold months of winter. Research on exactly why SAD occurs and who it affects is still developing, but many experts believe it has something to do with the changing seasons disrupting our circadian rhythm, and lack of natural sunlight affecting our levels of melatonin (i.e. for sleeping) and serotonin (i.e. for happiness). College students have a natural predisposition toward mental illnesses like depression and anxiety for a variety of reasons, but SAD can easily set in and worsen moods and school performance. Here are a few things you can do on-campus to really help combat seasonal affective disorder.

Try Light Therapy

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, involves sitting near a bright light, typically upon waking up, to compensate for your body’s lack of access to natural sunlight. Lack of natural sun can lead to vitamin deficiencies (esp. vitamin D), low serotonin, and a circadian rhythm that’s out of whack. These artificial ‘suns’ are usually referred to as light boxes. Often, light boxes use LED lighting and filters to block out most of the harmful UV light. Why LEDs and not just a regular lamp? LEDs provide the most light output with the least effort. For example, compared to a halogen bulb an LED will use 15% as much energy to produce around 85% more light. Light a mini sunbeam in your bedroom! Note that it’s best to get approval for light therapy from your doctor — they can also point you toward a physician-approved light box model.

Deck Out Your Room With Healthy Accessories

Maybe you think incense burners, essential oil diffusers, and salt lamps are hippy silliness — but they really boost your mood! Aromatherapy from incense and essential oils has been shown to be an effective mood lifter and sleep inducer for many people, as scent is one of our most influential senses. Accessories like Himalayan salt lamps aren’t just beautiful to have around, they also reportedly catch airborne allergens and release negative ions. Why are negative ions good for your mood? Negative air ionization was actually found to have a correlation with lower depression scores, according to a BMC Psychiatry study. You’re going to spend a lot of time in your dorm room during the winter, so you may as well make it a personal peaceful paradise.

Take Advantage of On-Campus Counseling Centers

Did you know your college or university most likely has an on-campus counseling center for student use? Many schools even factor the cost of the counseling center into the whole student body’s tuition to make it a free service for students. Counseling is often expensive and difficult to get into once you graduate; take advantage of this wonderful service! Maybe you think it won’t help you, or won’t treat something like SAD. The majority of students have been surprised at how helpful counseling actually was for them. In the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD)’s annual report of 2016, 71% of students surveyed “responded positively when asked if counseling services had helped with their academic performance”.

Finally, prioritize soaking in as much natural light and enjoyable activities as you can. If homework can reasonably wait until after dinner, take a quick brisk walk with friends or go ice skating in the winter sunshine. Good self-care is hard to achieve with a demanding university schedule, but remember to put your health above everything else!

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