Tuesday 20 November 2018

Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at University

In this blog, Emily shares tips she’s learned through experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at university

For some, the idea of the coming winter months fills them with warmth and joy. Cosy nights in with blankets and hot chocolate and Christmas movies sound welcoming. However, for others, the winter months fills them with dread. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is sometimes referred to as “Winter Depression”, is a type of depression which typically arises during the winter months, when it gets darker and colder. 

You can find out more about the symptoms and causes of SAD either on the Mind website, or on the NHS website.

My experience:

Before starting university in 2013, I had never heard of SAD, but since losing my Dad to cancer in early 2012, I had been aware of a pattern of my mental health getting worse during the winter months. During my second year at university, I went to speak to my GP because I was worried at how the upcoming colder and darker months would affect me at this important time of the year for my studies. This was because, in my first year, I had missed several lectures before Christmas because my mood was low, I was feeling exhausted and generally had very little energy or motivation to do anything. A year later, I was diagnosed with SAD. 

Each year, I still dread the winter months. My mental health is significantly better in the summer when the weather is generally nicer, there are more hours of daylight and I have more energy and motivation to do things. 

Since being diagnosed with SAD, I have learnt and developed some techniques that help me to cope better during the winter months. From November onwards, it’s a particularly stressful time for students, with essay deadlines and the upcoming exam season after the Christmas break. Coping with SAD (or any mental health difficulty for that matter) on top of assignments and revision is even more stressful and challenging. 

It’s important, if you do suffer with SAD, to acknowledge that you’re not always going to have the energy to do work, and that’s okay. There are certainly support services at university who you can speak to if you are struggling. You can speak to a tutor, a doctor, anyone you feel comfortable talking to. Talking to your friends about how you feel can also help. I remember in my final year, one day when I was desperately struggling with SAD and assignments and other deadlines, my friend came over to make me dinner, which was a real help. Cooking healthy meals either by yourself or with your housemates can really help at this time of year too. 

Another good idea is to get as much natural daylight as possible. At Swansea, I was really lucky because I could just go for a walk on the beach or in the park. If your university has any nice parks (or a beach) nearby, then get out into the daylight each day if possible, or even walking into the town centre. Taking a walk in the daylight also means that you’re getting some exercise too. Another thing that can help with SAD – but is difficult as a student – is to avoid stress. In this case, from my own experiences, I have found that it helps to take some time each day to do something that makes me happy, usually writing or watching a favourite TV programme. Whilst I was at university, I ensured that I had one day or at least half a day off from university work each week to just relax. 

If you do suffer with SAD, it’s important to remember that the winter months are temporary. Spring and summer soon come back around. There are so many things you can do to help yourself get through the difficult winter months, however, if you’re finding it really difficult, speak to your doctor for more advice. 

My name is Emily (Em). I have recently graduated from Swansea University with my BA degree in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting; I was also passionate about and dedicated to Swansea Student Media and the University students’ newspaper – Waterfront. I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues as a student and now as a graduate, as well as other health issues, and I support friends who also have mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences – both in helping me to explore and to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others. 

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