Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Students studying for mid-terms, finals or even finishing up a paper can feel stressed and overwhelmed.  They may be irritable, anxious, sad and tired.  These can be typical responses to stress that will be alleviated once mid-terms are over.  However, for some students these symptoms continue to persist and worsen.  Symptoms that persist and worsen during the fall and winter months may be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  SAD symptoms are:

  • Increased feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Lower mood and/or increased sadness
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Irritability and/or restlessness
  • Changes in school performance
  • Decreased energy
  • Increased sleep, feeling tired or washed out
  • Changes in weight or appetite

Seasonal Affective Disorder appears in the fall and winter months due to the diminishing exposure to sunlight.  SAD affects about 5-13% of the population.  The Mayo Clinic states that the decrease in sunlight affects circadian rhythm, serotonin and melatonin levels.

  • Circadian Rhythm (your biological clock)  
    The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body's internal clock, which lets you know when you should sleep and be awake.  This disruption of your circadian rhythm may lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels
    A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in seasonal affective disorder.  Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels
    The change in season can disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

SAD can have a significant impact on a student's well-being and academic success.  SAD is a real condition with treatment options which include:

  • Empower oneself to learn about symptoms and SAD.
  • Pay attention to warning signs and what triggers may affect SAD.
  • Increase exercise.  Physical activity may help reduce symptoms and manage stress levels.
  • Follow treatment plan.  If taking medication or in therapy, continue to follow recommendations.
  • Get adequate sleep and maintain a healthy diet, watching carbohydrate intake.
  • Light exposure therapy - follow your health care provider's recommendations.
  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs.  They can worsen symptoms and make SAD more difficult to treat.

If you notice a student exhibiting symptoms of SAD, suggest s/he visit the Student Health Clinic or the Counseling Center.  Symptoms of SAD are also symptoms of medical issues (i.e. thyroid, chronic viral illness, chronic fatigue syndrome) so it is important to see a medical doctor or mental health provider. 


To learn more about Seasonal Affective Disorder, please check out these resources: 

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