Getting Through the Darker Days


Photo by Anthony Tran from Unsplash

Sean Patterson, The Carroll News

How SAD Affects Students

The snow is falling and the iconic bell tower sets the tone for a campus decked out in red and green. The anticipation of Christmas is palpable in the residence halls, student center and academic buildings adorned with trees, lights and wreaths. Despite the early festivities, it is not uncommon for some people to experience changes in their mood this time of year.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression attributed to the decreased hours of daylight characteristic of Cleveland winters. Symptoms range in severity, from minor difficulties with concentration to new or worsening depression, based on the body’s biological response to environmental factors.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, darkness increases the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. While this might be beneficial if you’re heading to bed, it can make late-night study sessions or waking up early difficult. This is due to changes in the body’s internal cycle known as the circadian rhythm.

Jamie Gatesman, a junior psychology major whose mind-brain behavior class investigated some potential causes of SAD, explained that the circadian rhythm is highly susceptible to changes in natural light. Since the sun rises later and sets earlier in the winter, it is likely that a disruption in this cycle is linked to negative changes in energy levels and sleep patterns. Gatesman added that light therapy is one potential remedy to the disorder, though there are many tools right here on campus to combat SAD.

The good news is that the disorder comes and goes with the seasons. After the winter solstice on Dec. 21, the days will only get brighter. In the meantime, JCU offers students a wealth of resources they can use to stay energetic and positive during the final weeks of the semester. For example, the JCU Self-Care Club hosts workshops and events open to all students interested in personal wellness.

Additionally, be sure to check out the special events planned for finals week, such as therapy dogs, coloring and other activities that promote mindfulness and relaxation. If you experience overwhelming stress or symptoms of depression, seasonal or otherwise, you can contact the University Counseling Center by calling 216-397-4283. As well as individual sessions, the center offers free self-help resources that can assist anyone looking to manage stress leading up to finals. To lighten the mood and stay focused for finals, take time to relax and care for yourself while encouraging your friends to do the same. Brighter days are ahead!