How to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder 

Over the winter, the streets around New Paltz stay mostly empty due to icy surfaces and harsh winds. Photo courtesy Dylan Moscoso

After turning back the clock on Nov. 6, many of us succumb to the same draining feeling we see around us. Trees start going into survival mode, shedding their leaves while the temperature drops and the sunset comes earlier each day.

Due to a combination of less sunlight and colder weather, it’s easy to feel unmotivated or even unable to get out and do anything outside of work and class. When this becomes a chronic issue lasting more than an odd day or two, it’s referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Some of the symptoms that come with SAD include issues in eating and sleeping patterns, lack of energy or concentration and feelings of depression. These usually come from a combination of a lack of natural sunlight and shorter days, increasing your body’s melatonin production, decreasing serotonin levels and disrupting your biological clock. 

While you can’t control the sun, there are some actions you can take to counter SAD. These include going out earlier in the day or whenever you can, combatting oversleeping or napping during the day and maximizing the amount of sunlight or lower-wavelength light you receive.

Outdoors and Sunlight/Blue Light

Whether you’re stuck at work or in classes for most of the day, try to take a five to 10 minute break if possible to get out, even if it’s just for a “cigarette break” length of time. Short walks to break up long periods of sitting have been found to decrease blood pressure and reduce a spike in blood sugar after eating.

When going outdoors isn’t an option, avoid warmer lighting and don’t wear blue light-filtering glasses during the day (if the alternative is headaches, don’t follow this advice. Take bihourly screen breaks if possible, but follow what works for you). If you’re able, adding plants and grow lights to your office or home space is a great way to increase energy, air quality, overall mood and is a less invasive way to integrate lights into your space.

When you do have free time, make sure you’re using it as best as you can. To the extent that your social battery allows you, try to make plans with people! It’s an easy way for you to dedicate yourself to following through and feel more comfortable when you go somewhere unfamiliar.

Clubs are an especially good place to find people with the same interests as you. The New Paltz Music Collective and the Outing Club on campus are two great groups if you’re looking to get into the music scene or go on early-morning hikes.

To find other clubs that align with your interests, you can visit Engage through to search for organizations and events recognized by the university. To find Engage, go to Student, then Resources, then Student Engagement, then ENGAGE (Student Organizations).

Once you find an organization you like, you can find information like their meeting times, email and social media for updates. Most groups allow anyone to come to meetings, but it doesn’t hurt to message their social media (Instagram is usually best) or email them just to be safe and courteous.

Sleep Habits

The next best thing you can do is combat bad sleep habits to fight that midday slump and oversleeping. As a student, one of the best feelings is going to bed without worrying about an alarm in the morning; this can cause you to wake up more slowly and to stay in bed longer than you usually would.

While it’s good to keep a regular schedule for sleeping and waking up during the week, allowing yourself to sleep in on days off and weekends can be beneficial. According to psychologist Dr. Robin Haight, keeping the alarm off on weekends and sleeping in can increase the quality and the quantity of sleep you receive by catching up on missed sleep during the week.

In the afternoon, your body hits a major energy slump. While most of this decrease in energy is natural, winter, alongside factors like stress, poor nutrition and hydration can make fatigue even worse.

Instead of the usual “drink water” advice, here are some more realistic tips to try to fight the midday exhaustion that usually comes in the middle of a busy day.

1. Eat breakfast! Even if it’s something small, it helps prevent overeating at lunch and contributing to that tired feeling afterwards. The Sleep Foundation explains how the “post-lunch dip” is caused by our internal clocks but can be intensified by factors such as high-fat and carbohydrate meals. 

2. Between 12pm-3pm, try to be outside of your room and maximize your sunlight exposure, even if it’s just opening the blinds. While the sun can tire you out over the summer, even sunlight through a window can help moderate serotonin and melatonin levels, according to Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D.

3. Give in to the snooze! If you’re feeling tired, you’re probably tired. If you don’t want a nap to impact the rest of your day, Sleep Physician Dr. Abhinav Singh says 20 to 30 minute naps are ideal. Give yourself a 10-15 minute “buffer” to wind down, and put on some lofi (music without lyrics is less distracting).

At a point, it’s a fight against the urges that lead to us succumbing to this slump. It’s much easier to just go on TikTok and lay down if you’re feeling drained, as most of us know. The best advice is to figure out how to personally fight those urges. 

Issues with turning off your alarm and laying back down? Put your phone across the room at high volume so you have to get up to turn it off. Find what works for you, and use whatever tools you need to.

Most importantly, going outdoors during the winter can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. While trying not to sound like an overbearing parent practically throwing scarves at you, here’s some general advice for different temperatures and activities.

1. When it’s above 50℉, you don’t need any special clothing. UV protection such as sunglasses and sunscreen are ideal, but an absolutely necessary concern is for your pets. In warmer weather, ensure their paws aren’t being burned by the ground and they have adequate water.

2. Between 50℉ and 30℉, longer pants and an insulating layer like a sweatshirt or light jacket are best. When in doubt, wear a comfortable base layer and pack a sweater.

3. When it’s below 30℉, you have to be much more cautious. Wind chill is your worst enemy, and covering your hands, face and neck/ears are important. A protective layer like a lightweight jacket or windbreaker is essential, and always keep an eye on your pets if you’re bringing them out.

Some more tips include using the same etiquette when going outdoors anytime of the year. Bring water, a portable charger and a light snack if you’re planning on being outdoors for over an hour. Avoid cotton-based clothing at all costs, use a base layer made from polyester or another moisture-wicking material.