Seasonal Affective Disorder: Overcoming the winter blues

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“After hearing Miami natives detail the northeastern winter, I began to wonder if I’d experience SAD when freezing temperatures hit.” / Illustration by Ally Rzesa

By Carlota Cano

Growing up in Miami, I practically lived in a bikini and flip flops, savoring warm temperatures and sunny days year-round. Now that I live in Boston, I’ve made the switch from flip flops to boots. Realistically, I was three years old the last time I experienced a prolonged cold climate. I went from digging my toes into the sand every other day to walking around the red-bricked buildings in Boston. 

In the coming months, students across New England will see the leaves fall and temperatures drop significantly. For students like myself that come from warmer climates, it can be difficult to adjust. Shorter days and colder temperatures can make students like myself feel extra homesick, or even make them experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD.

In 1985, the American Psychiatric Association described Seasonal Affective Disorder as “a condition characterized by regularly occurring winter depression frequently alternating with summer hypomania.” The National Institute of Mental Health details the common symptoms of SAD as losing energy, becoming socially withdrawn, and developing hypersomnia. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, approximately four to six percent of people can experience winter depression. 

I initially heard about SAD from my hometown friends that moved to Boston and had a hard time adapting throughout the tough winter. After hearing Miami natives detail the northeastern winter, I began to wonder if I’d experience SAD when freezing temperatures hit.

Essentially, being used to warmer climates and susceptible to homesickness increased my fear of experiencing SAD after my transfer. I realized students like myself should keep a couple of things in mind. In order to prepare for the winter, I have gathered advice from friends already living in Boston and other remedies to help ease into the winter.

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As winter transforms into spring, students should remember that there are people supporting you. A new environment should never let you believe you are too far from home. 

I’ve ensured I have a support system built from family and friends who can guide me in the more somber days. I FaceTime my family every day because it’s hard to end the day in an empty home. In Miami, I’d always have my family to accompany me and provide an immense amount of support, no matter the situation. Talking to them virtually makes me feel closer to home and helps counter the fact that I now live alone. 

Apart from the freezing temperatures, the lack of sun exposure is also one of my greatest concerns. I used to spend an extended amount of time under the sun, whether I was at the beach tanning or running by the shoreline. Seeing the sunlight fade at an early time reminds me of the short days I’m going to experience in the winter. For that reason, many of my friends from Miami that live in Boston have recommended using UV lamps. 

The UV lamp is supposed to help reinforce the amount of sunlight we are exposed to and act as a natural antidepressant. According to the study from the National Institute of Mental Health, artificial light “approximates that of sunlight measured at a window on a clear spring day.” 

Moreover, it is important to remember that the snow eventually melts away and reveals the ground again. Despite being worried about SAD, there are many things I’m looking forward to experiencing this winter. I have yet to experience my first snowball fight! 

With the help of artificial light, excellent winter gear, and my family’s support, I know I will be able to adapt smoothly to the harsh winter here in the northeast. Staying in touch with my family is what is going to bring me real warmth during the winter. If you’re like me, you need to be prepared for the worst.

After all, winter is coming.