BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
Seasonal affective disorder, also called seasonal depression, most commonly occurs during the fall and winter months. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can include appetite changes, oversleeping, and low energy.
“Weather definitely has an impact on us as humans and our mental health,” said FHSU Drug and Alcohol Counselor Bob Duffy.
While it’s true that the nicer weather during spring and summer can lessen the effects of seasonal depression, Duffy says that it’s more about the connection between the mind and body.
“A lot of times it’s about taking advantage of the connection between our mind and our body,” he said. “When the weather is warmer we tend to be more active, it’s easier to go outside, and you see more people outside. When we’re more active our senses are heightened a little bit and we’re also energized.”
Simply put, nicer weather can provide more opportunities for the things that make us happy. A higher heart rate from activity and more exposure to vitamin D can make us feel better, as well as just seeing others.
“When we’re cooped up and inside, and it’s gray and rainy outside, that can make depression seem worse,” said Duffy.
Duffy also talked about what to do to take advantage of the nice weather. For him, it’s outdoor photography and golfing. For college students, he suggests – among other things – working on homework outside.
“I always love seeing students that are doing their homework out [on the quad]. Technology can be a good thing and a bad thing, but I’m really glad that we have the internet available with our new technology out there,” Duffy said. “We have routers out there that you can connect to the web and actually do your homework outside.”
He went on to explain three dimensions of health to be aware of.
“When I talk to students in personal counseling sessions, I usually ask about three specific things: exercise, diet, and sleep. We tend to eat heavier foods during the winter, and that can lead to us not feeling that good. Having a steady sleep regiment is important, especially as the seasons are transitioning if that’s something you’re sensitive to,” Duffy said. “With exercise, what I usually recommend is starting with about a ten-minute walk. That starts the chemicals in our brain that make us feel okay to be released, but 20 minutes is a really good point to try and get to.”
Duffy ended by saying that while taking advantage of the nice weather can help with seasonal depression, it’s not a total cure.
“It sets the table, so to speak, so that you may not be as depressed or your symptoms may become more manageable,” he said. “What we find is that if we encourage people to become active, check on those physical things – especially exercise, diet, and sleep, and if needed, get evaluated for medication, we really give ourselves the best chance.
For a full list of the counseling services provided by Fort Hays Health and Wellness Services, visit https://www.fhsu.edu/health-and-wellness/counseling/.