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Dark Days of the Year

You wake up to a blanket of white covering the world outside. The tree branches hang low with the weight of snow, and freezing wind caresses you as intricate patterns of silvery ice fall from the sky. The white sequin ground looks breathtaking, beautiful.

But don’t be fooled; this breathtaking beauty is also a prelude to something more grim: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a condition that can cause a long list of maladies, including depression, anxiety, lethargy, and appetite changes. With winter, comes the onset of this serious mental health issue that affects many Canadians every year. So how should one deal with the impending dark reality of winter?

Well, here are some tips to battle the onslaught of winter woes:

Combatting the Lack of Sunlight The ostensibly endless darkness of winter can pave the way for symptoms of SAD, as studies have shown that lack of sunlight increases vulnerability to this disorder. As the days get shorter and darker, it’s important to find ways to make up for this lack of sunlight, and one way is to use light therapy. During light therapy, you are exposed to bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. The Student Health Education Centre (SHEC) at McMaster has recently added a light therapy lamp to their list of services and welcomes students to come check it out.

Another issue that arises from lack of sunlight exposure is Vitamin D insufficiency, which can cause the troublesome lethargy that accompanies SAD. Supplementing your diet with Vitamin D-rich foods, or even taking Vitamin D supplements, can help your body deal with loss of sunshine.

Counselling As superfluous as it may sound, seeking counselling is always a helpful option.While counseling is not a perfect cure, it can help you better understand and address your symptoms. Treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you eliminate harmful habits that worsen SAD. Furthermore, keeping tabs on your mental health through counselling can help you manage symptoms more effectively.

Getting in the Rhythm Contrary to the usual advice given to university students about getting enough sleep, sleep restriction seems to be a more common tip for dealing with SAD. However, this does not mean you should limit yourself to getting less than 7-9 hours of sleep a day! As winter blues descend, it may get harder and harder to get out of bed, but it is important to pay attention to the circadian rhythm of your body. Adjusting your sleep cycle so that you get at least 7-9 hours of rest, without excess sleep can help you feel more energized, especially if you take advantage of the early light of day. Exercising outdoors during this early light or even going for a walk during the day can help alleviate symptoms of SAD.

While these tips may not be complete solutions, it is always worth a shot to try them out. Everyone is affected differently by SAD, so remedies that work for others may not work for you, but don’t give up! Be confident that you can help yourself overcome SAD.

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