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Shedding light on winter depression

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Well, it’s officially winter.
The excitement of the first snowfall and the magic of the holiday season are behind us. School is back in session and reality is sinking in. It’s cold. Like, really cold. And it already feels like it’s never going to end.
Being Canadian, I think most of the world thinks we’re equipped with a special layer of skin to help us survive the dark, dreary months ahead. And honestly, maybe we are. But that doesn’t mean we’re all excited about it. For us on the eastern shore, the first snowfall is always a doozy. And it usually means one of two things: Maybe you’re the kind of person who jumps for joy, digs out your forgotten snow gear from a box marked “winter” and runs outside. Mouth wide open, attempting to catch the falling fluffy white goodness, you dream about months of tobogganing, snow forts, ski hills and hot cocoa.
For the rest of the population, this glee is nowhere in sight. The bright autumn colours have faded away, leaving in their place barren landscapes and naked tree limbs. Brittle icicles cling to gutters as harsh winds rattle window frames. Birds have escaped to warmer climates, and about half the population is wishing they could, too. While some are out, embracing their new world purified by snow, others are being suffocated by the literal darkness that sets in way before dinnertime.
If you feel like the gloomy weather may be directly affecting your mood, you’re probably right. Health experts report that people generally feel happier, healthier and more energetic during the longer and brighter days of summer, while their moods tend to drop during the shorter and duller days during the winter. The change in attitude is commonly known as winter blues, winter depression, or in more severe cases, seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Symptoms of winter blues include anything from a general laziness to feeling tired all the time, weight gain, irritability, and rapid mood swings. All symptoms directly link with depression, except in this case they typically set in around October/November, when the days begin getting shorter, and can last into late spring. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 15 per cent of Canadians will experience a mild form of winter blues at some point in their life and further, two to three per cent will experience the more severe level of seasonal depression, SAD. The disorder typically begins to appear in people aged 20 or over, and this, combined with the added stress of exams and assignments, places university students at a much higher risk of developing some form of seasonal depression during their university career. As students in the Maritimes, with the likelihood of particularly long and brutal winters, it’s even more of a concern for us.
But don’t worry, if you’re someone whose mood falls faster than the thermometer , there are some scientifically proven lifestyle changes that may help brighten your spirits. ULifeline, an online resource for college mental health, has compiled a list of tips that anyone can use to help raise their mood during the winter months.
Keeping active, brightening your environment, and staying positive are the most important. Exercise is already proven to reduce symptoms of depression and raise endorphin levels in the brain, so it’s crucial to stay active in the winter months. For more severe cases, light therapy and other treatments can be prescribed. Sometimes the answer is as simple as embracing the daylight while you can and staying social, but it’s dangerously common for students to write off SAD symptoms as standard stress that comes from being in university. If you relate to any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to speak with a friend or contact Dalhousie Health Services, just in case.
Winter has come, but we’ll survive like we always do. So if ever you feel like you can’t pull yourself out of bed in the morning, just think of that delicious Galley coffee and it will get you through, one day at a time. And remember, from now on every day is a little bit longer than the one before. So embrace your Canadian roots while you can, and spring will be here soon.

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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