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The Carletonian

Brutal Minnesota Winters Exacerbate SAD

< term comes to a close, it seems appropriate to reflect on the dismal state of mind that has afflicted many a Carl this season: seasonal affective disorder, abbreviated as SAD.

What is SAD? The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia calls it “a type of depression that occurs at a certain time of year, usually in the winter.”

While a rare form of SAD occurs in the summer, most people who suffer from the disorder experience it during the winter months. People living in regions with substantially decreased hours of sunlight during winter months—Minnesota, for example—are more likely to experience it. As with other forms of depression, SAD is more common in women than men.

Sydney Delp, a computer science major who will graduate this spring, was frank about how SAD has influenced her life as a Carleton student.

In describing her symptoms, Delp says, “It’ll start with mild lack of energy, which will express itself as a hard time waking up in the morning and a lack of caring about school work. This will increase over time, where I’ll start oversleeping purposefully, have no academic drive whatsoever, will withdraw myself from my friends, family, and people in general, and intentionally miss social events.”

Delp’s experience with SAD illustrates the incompatibility of it and similar disorders with Carleton’s intense academic environment.

For Delp, the decreased level of energy that accompanies SAD is directly linked to a more apathetic attitude toward schoolwork. She explains, “I start to get a “whatever” attitude and I’ll play video games or watch YouTube clips and lounge around instead of do work. I also always feel like I need to sleep more, so I’ll end up sleeping through my classes once every couple weeks or so. My ability to concentrate also decreases, so even if I am working, I’m very easily distracted.”

All in all, Delp characterizes her SAD as “sort of an overall depression, with pretty severe lack of energy, social withdrawal, and little capability to focus and complete tasks.”

Unfortunately, Delp’s symptoms are hard to detect at first because they make themselves known gradually, “over the course of a couple of weeks…It’ll start with just a down day or two, and slowly get worse over time,” she notes, adding, “Because of this, I don’t realize I’m experiencing SAD until many overslept classes and missed meetings later.”

Once Delp recognizes her symptoms as being a function of SAD, she utilizes multiple coping strategies: “I’ll…do my best to spend some time with my sun lamp, take some Vitamin D, take walks when it’s sunny out, and exercise more, which usually helps.”

Additionally, Delp finds support in her friends, saying, “I’ll also tell my friends what I’m going through, so they can encourage me to keep up with my coping mechanisms when I’m too lazy to make myself do them.”

Over the past few years, Delp has developed “a very specific coping mechanism” she calls “beach time.” Delp happens to be the R.A. on my floor, and I was introduced to the concept when she invited residents to participate with her.

On “beach time” Delp remarked, “I’ll turn on my bright sun lamp, turn up the temperature of the room, play some relaxing beachy music, and invite friends over. This helps me forget about the cold, dark wasteland that Minnesota is outside and instead soak in some artificial sun while spending time with others, which always brightens up my day and gives me more energy. By scheduling it on a weekly basis and inviting other people, it forces me to do it, which is good since otherwise I might not have enough energy to make it happen.”

If any of Delp’s symptoms sound familiar, it may be worth looking into whether you’ve been affected by SAD. Though Delp hasn’t been officially diagnosed, she sought the medical opinions of family members as well as other clinicians who confirmed that her symptoms “match up perfectly” with SAD.

Light therapy, in combination with enough sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet can be very beneficial in combating SAD symptoms. Student Health and Counseling has a light box available by appointment for students with seasonal affective disorder.

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