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The Scarlet & Black

Mental Musings: Are you sad or do you have SAD?

Graphic by Tess Kerkhof.


As the winter months lie ahead, I keep hearing this term: seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also called seasonal depression. I’ve heard of SAD before, but throughout the pandemic, I feel like I’ve heard various people express how much harder it is to cope with SAD in our unstable social circumstances. Given the prevalence of SAD, and my own personal experiences with SAD (Christmas makes me sad? Shocker, I know), I wanted to dive deeper into what SAD is exactly and what methods people have used in the last two winters to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy.  

Now, as the S&B’s local stemmo, let’s look at some basic chemistry. SAD happens for a few different reasons, and these reasons vary from person to person. A few of the main culprits include Vitamin D, melatonin and sunlight. All these chemical compounds have some form of a relationship to our interrupted circadian rhythms during the winter months. Vitamin D is synthesized through a chemical process that mainly involves cholesterol and UV light. In the winter months, we are exposed to less UV light due to the shorter daylight hours as well as our increased time inside. Our time inside, of course, has only increased since the onset of the pandemic and hence, may further these effects. On the other hand, melatonin is a hormone produced during the sleep cycle, and as a result bodies tend to produce and release more melatonin in dark environments. More simply put, it all comes back down to light and sleep.  

Although it sounds like SAD could easily just be winter nostalgia or what some articles deem ‘winter blues,’ SAD is much more than that. SAD can take on the severity of other depressive disorders and can inhibit everyday functions. SAD is also incredibly common in the U.S., where 5 percent of adults suffer from SAD throughout 40 percent of the year 

Various treatments exist for SAD, including the usual aids for depression, mainly medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, some people have attempted to use light therapy by sitting in front of a light box to increase their intake of UV light. Other recommendations include healthy sleep routines, since SAD is so deeply linked to circadian rhythms.  

All these tips are fine and well, but the reality is, we’re all college students. I know for a fact we are not all getting consistent sleep (even though we should!), and not all of us are able to get access to the proper avenues of support, whether that be therapy or medication. Also, with finals fast approaching, and with Iowa’s weather alternating temperatures more than my Spotify wrapped switched between genres, we’ve been spending a good amount of time inside, staring at screens, typing away. The odds are pretty stacked against us.  

But! We can always work to do what we can. If you need to hunker down and write that paper, do it. Maybe sit by a window though, try to catch as much of the sunlight as you can. I’ve also been rotating study spots. I bounce from place to place throughout the day, just to keep my setting changing. Some hours, I let myself study somewhere more social, like the grill, and others, when I really need to get everything done, I hide away in burling. Make sure you’re staying hydrated and eating well, to keep your body and mind going. 

I also hope more than anything, Grinnellians, that you spend as much time with your friends as you can. Just a little less than 2 years ago, the possibility of a semi-normal semester seemed impossible. We waited, lingering in uncertainty, wondering if we would ever know Grinnell the way we did once. Sometimes, I find myself in disbelief that we made it back here. So even though I should probably spend every waking moment writing all my final papers and attempting to pass my physics class, I will be cooking with my friend who is on the brink of his fall graduation and dancing around to the “Into the Spider-Verse” soundtrack with my lovely friends on East Street, I will drink too much coffee with my friend headed for France in the spring, and, perhaps, as I write this during our Thursday night lay out, I will allow myself to indulge in the insane amount of chaotic energy that S&B editors exude.  

I hope you say “fuck it” to a few your responsibilities too, and that if you are struggling with SAD, that you find light, literally or figuratively, in whatever way you can.  

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