Winter is coming. The leaves have fallen off the trees, and the temperature dips lower each day. Sunlight hours dwindle, and it is only a matter of time before snowbanks begin to line the sides of the road. However, winter 2020 will bring about much more than snow and biting cold. For Boston College students, and all those living in winter conditions, another problem looms overhead: seasonal depression.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that happens every year at the same time, according to WebMD. Normally, SAD occurs from November and the start of daylight savings time through the winter months. While not all are diagnosed with SAD, some may experience depressive symptoms due to reduced sunlight, colder weather, and social isolation. Boston College students likely hear about this term all the time, as Massachusetts has all the conditions that lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Those who are dealing with SAD or some of its effects often experience shifts in their daily lives. Chronic fatigue, inability to concentrate, and overall less energy are some examples. Dealing with this disorder and its complications, while challenging enough in normal conditions, will likely become more difficult for everyone given the circumstances of this past year.
The pandemic forced the majority of Americans into their homes for months on end. This period of quarantine led to major changes in the mental state of the nation. “Significantly higher shares of people who were sheltering in place (47%) reported negative mental health effects resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus than among those not sheltering-in-place (37%),” reports the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Research also shows that social isolation has been linked time and time again to worsened physical health. Overall, the outlook on winter 2020 looks to mirror the bleakness that many have already experienced this year.
Since March, the onset of depressive symptoms and deteriorating mental health has impacted people of all ages. Quarantine and its aftermath revealed the need for society-wide mental health services. Considering the rise in COVID-19 cases nationwide and at the state level in Massachusetts, another quarantine could occur any day now. Statewide mandates for masks and business curfews have already gone into place in Massachusetts and a number of other states. As unprepared as many people may feel now, isolation looms in the near future.
This time around will be different. Dealing with an already stressful quarantine situation in tandem with seasonal depression is a recipe for mental and psychological strain. The most effective way to avert this crisis will be to make a plan. Plans for healthy living will range for everybody, but some of the tried and tested ways of staying sane this winter are good sources of inspiration. Here are just a few:
Staying active: While this piece of advice may seem overdone, it has without a doubt made an impact on a number of people’s experiences with mental health, as well as physical health. Research done by experts in the field has proven that doing even some of the most basic exercises like walking or running could have positive outcomes on mental health. This quarantine season, consider sticking to that home workout schedule or taking walks around town. Slowing down and taking time to do something outside of thinking and worrying may alleviate some of the stress that comes with the tortuous year that has been 2020.
Therapy: While some may not have access to areas for walking and running or a home gym to work out in, telehealth therapy visits have opened the door for people around the country to receive the psychological help they need without the hassle of traveling to an office. Telehealth also makes the idea of therapy more digestible to those who would not normally go. The importance of keeping an open dialogue about mental health cannot be stressed enough, and the pandemic has only served as a reminder of this. For Boston College students specifically, University Counseling Services offer a host of different options for emotional support. From telehealth visits with trained counselors to the app “Welltrack,” BC students have a number of avenues to explore and engage with in order to stay healthy this winter.
Light: This one may sound vague, but the importance of getting sunlight goes unnoticed in the day-to-day lives of people around the world. It makes sense: Spending all day working, many would not realize the impact of sunlight and vitamin D on the body. Trying to catch some rays this winter season will be important moving forward. For those who will live in colder areas where the sun may not come out some days, consider a lamp that gives the same sensation as sunlight.
Social connection: Staying connected with friends and family, however difficult it may be, drastically improves mood and the ability to stave off loneliness. With apps like FaceTime and Zoom, the ability to connect with these people has become easier than ever. Remembering to do so, however, is an entirely different issue. Setting a schedule to meet with people normally, to count on seeing other people repeatedly can be beneficial for mental and social health. This quarantine, keeping connections will be key in staying sane and retaining some sense of normalcy in such an unusual time.
Reading: With many people having extended periods of time with nothing to do, bad habits can form easily—many of which are hard to shake later down the line. On the flip side, good habits can come from quarantine this upcoming winter. One of those could be reading. Reading (long novels, short stories, fiction, non-fiction, etc.) has been proven to benefit peoples’ mental state in addition to giving people something to do when they have nothing else. John Fish, a student at Harvard, published a video discussing the importance of reading, explaining why reading this upcoming winter may be more prominent than ever before.
Journaling: Staying in touch with personal emotions remains a priority now more than ever. Journaling and reflecting on those feelings can help to make quarantine more comfortable and livable. Many people have found themselves journaling in the past few months to recount the unimaginable reality. However, many of those same people unknowingly discovered an outlet for reflection. Journaling is easy, accessible, and not time-consuming. Journaling also allows for anyone to tailor the experience however they please, making it an easy habit for nearly everyone to pick up.
Long-term projects: As mentioned previously, many people, Boston College students specifically, will deal with long stretches of time with no clear objectives, classes, jobs, etc. One particular way to tend to this problem is by undertaking a longer project. This project could mean anything from doing a massive puzzle to painting a mural. Having some form of goal can act as a placeholder for classes and a way to structure days when nothing seems to be going on. It also allows for some sense of achievement and progress to come at a time of stagnation and uncertainty.
In general, the list above mentions many forms of scheduling and structure. Quarantine shakes up day-to-day life by throwing schedules out the window. With nothing left to do, problems arise and issues fester. Reclaiming the day by filling it with activities and goals may be the first step to slowing mental health deterioration. During this pandemic, paying attention to psychological health is equally as important as taking care of one's physical health. The pandemic’s lasting effects will be felt for years to come; however, society’s newfound respect for mental health may be one of the more positive consequences, and certainly is of vital importance this winter season.