Protect yourself from seasonal blues

Mary Park, Scene Editor

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It’s exciting to be on campus after summer break, meeting old and new friends and going to welcome events. But fall quarter can also bring another set of emotions for some people. 

As we roll into shorter and overcast days, people may experience low energy, changes in appetite and sleeping patterns and social withdrawal. 

The official term for this is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and is more commonly known as the fall or winter blues.

Dr. Cindy Bruns, a psychologist and the training director at the Student Medical and Counseling Clinic (SMaCC), said fall and winter tend to be the busiest quarters for the clinic. 

The SMaCC provides individual counseling, as well as group counseling and workshops that teach students on topics such as how to manage stress and how to help protect mood.

The SMaCC’s data reports that in fall 2018, “500 unique students were seen for 2,159 individual or group appointments.” 

In winter 2019, “342 unique students were seen for 2,005 individual or group appointments.” And in spring 2019, “161 unique students were seen for 1,420 individual or group appointments,” a significant drop from fall and winter.

Bruns explained that the numbers are smaller for spring partly because when the sun comes back out, people start to feel better. 

According to Helpguide.org, a nonprofit mental health and wellness website, a theory of why SAD occurs is that shorter daylight can disrupt the body’s internal clock. 

The brain produces too much melatonin, a sleep aiding hormone, causing drowsiness. Meanwhile, the body produces less serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, leading to low energy.

Bruns said there are a number of helpful remedies to lessen the effects of SAD, like “[going] outside and getting exposure to natural light, exercising on a regular basis and having good nutrition, social support and not isolating [yourself].”

For family and friends who want to help loved ones experiencing SAD, Bruns suggests providing support and listening instead of turning to problem solving.

“[That] doesn’t mean that problem solving isn’t helpful,” Bruns said. “But sometimes listening first and then problem solving later feels more supportive.”

She also suggested inviting the person to participate in activities and to keep extending the invitation. 

“Sometimes for people struggling with any kind of depression or mental health concerns, it can be hard to say ‘yes’ to the invitations,” Bruns said. “Sometimes, it’s tempting for friends or family members to give up and think somebody’s not interested but keep extending the invitation, because you never know when somebody will be able to say ‘yes.’”

The SMaCC’s “Let’s Talk” program, which piloted in 2018, allows counselors to give regular drop-in consultations each week at several buildings on campus, including the Brooks Library and Nicholson Pavilion. 

A student can come by and talk to a counselor for five to 15 minutes about any concern, in a private and safe setting.

“It can be just a ‘hey, I took a screener and it says I might be anxious or I might be depressed, do you think it’s serious enough to get counseling?’” Bruns said.

The Wellness Center, located in the SURC, is another department on campus that promotes awareness about holistic health and well-being.

Arryn Welty, who is an office assistant at the Wellness Center, said one of their main goals is to “promote positive health behaviors, in regard to all the dimensions of wellness.”

According to Welty, there have been a number of past events that raised awareness about mental health, with the most recent one being “Fresh Check Day,” which was held in spring. 

The event was a collaboration between other groups on campus such as Student Success Case Management, the SMaCC, women’s athletic teams and local businesses like Domino’s Pizza and Safeway, to call to attention about mental health through educational activities and screening tools.

Welty said there have also been more regular events such as Mindful Mondays.

“[They] are drop-in casual events in a non-academic space that are held every other week and have a theme such as mindful yoga [and] mindful eating,” Welty said.

Although the dates for fall quarter are not set in stone yet, the Wellness Center website provides updates about upcoming events. 

 

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