Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Seasonal depression – starting fresh in times of great change

As the trees start to thin and the days get shorter, the changing of seasons initiates a shift within me that is expected with this time of year. As someone who suffers with seasonal depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this time of year has come to symbolise a negative change instead of a fresh start. My optimism hibernates and low moods kick in with the lack of sunshine. This change is in some ways universal, as many people may notice a shift in motivation and perspective once the autumn and winter months arrive. Seasonal depression, however, is much more than just being bummed out by colder days. Indicated by the name, the disorder is classed as a form of depression caused by the changing of seasons that lasts a long time and affects daily life. 

My first year of university was the most difficult autumn for me in terms of how I managed to deal with my seasonal depression. Moving from my hometown in South Wales to a different environment in Egham felt like a drastic change. I was initially doing well with making friends and socialising at the start of term, but I noticed myself closing in and isolating myself as the months went on. I felt alone, and ashamed since I suddenly felt unable to socialise or be my normal self. For the first time in years, the return of Autumn now provides me with a sense of hope instead of dread. I’m no longer anxious that I won’t be able to cope with the psychological effects of the cold and dark days. Most of that change is thanks to the realisation that I could gain control over my symptoms, which I realised when I began reaching out for help. 

The first step was to speak up about how I was struggling. I received help and support from my university which led me to learn about the therapies and practices that could help me. This also eased the pressure from my studies as the university was made aware that I required extra support. I began looking at my mental health in a different light, as something that I was experiencing rather than being controlled by. Since then, many factors in my life have changed that have provided me with the solid foundations needed for dealing with my seasonal depression. I have gained a healthy and beautiful relationship, new friends that care and support me, and a more positive relationship with myself. I have built and maintained new positive coping mechanisms that have guided me through rough patches and difficult mental headspaces. 

In my personal experience with seasonal depression, I’ve found that it highlights and increases issues that I have been dealing with that I may previously have been able to cope with during spring and summer. The hot sunny days, time spent outside, and the summer break away from studies provide some stress relief that isn’t necessarily available during the winter months. The changes in the season thus force me to reconsider the coping mechanisms that may not be sustainable long term, as they are dependent on variables only available in the summer and spring. 

Here are some of the things I’ve found to be significantly helpful in coping with my seasonal depression:

  1. Communication

As soon as I began the conversation about how I was feeling, I suddenly felt less alone. Letting others in on my situation opened the doors to healing and being able to cope with my symptoms. If you are struggling with symptoms of poor mental health, it is important to reach out for professional help. This can begin simply by letting those around you know how you’re feeling and coping.

  1. Sunlight 

Light therapy is a common treatment for seasonal depression as we are less exposed to the benefits of the sun in the Autumn and Winter months. Taking the time to be out in the sun during the hours of light is important for receiving the mental benefits of the sun (with sun protection of course!). I bought a SAD lamp last winter that helped me whilst studying in the day and evenings when I couldn’t go outside in the sun, so I also recommend that as an option.

  1. A daily routine 

You’ve probably heard this a lot, but a regular daily routine can make such a difference to your mental health. Our brains thrive on routine and comfort, and this is an easy way to provide that for yourself. Whether this includes getting up at the same time every day or making time for exercise and socialising, tailor your daily routine around what is realistic and works for you.

  1. Taking medication 

Unfortunately, there is an unnecessary stigma around turning to antidepressants in times of need. Going on antidepressants was the best choice for me during a particularly difficult time last year. It allowed me to turn on the light in the dark room I was standing in and assess the situation in front of me. Although I have stopped taking the medication now, and although their side effects were unpleasant, I don’t regret deciding to start them. I was initially scared of them due to the stigma around them, but everyone’s experience is different. Always seek medical advice to discuss your options if you’re considering medication. 

If I were to give any advice to students during this new season, it would be to be kind and patient with yourself and to speak to someone if you’re struggling. This change in season doesn’t have to be a negative thing that we fear but can instead be a fresh start and a time to be kinder with ourselves. 

Image Credit: Aditya Vyas via Unsplash