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Why Does the Cold Bring Sadness with It? Seasonal Depression and Mental Health

Sydney Spack, Red & Black Contributor

Photo of the City of Pittsburgh during the winter months. (Photo Courtesy Getty Images)
As the temperature continues to drop and the days grow shorter, you might find yourself wondering why you’re more irritable, less motivated, always tired, the list goes on. The answer may be simpler than you think. It could be due to the simple change in seasons, a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD. The condition is described by many online publications, including South Tampa Psychiatry, as a type of depressive disorder characterized by its seasonal pattern, with symptoms worsening during the latter end of the fall season, and improving once the spring sun begins to shine. The Cleveland Clinic explains that “Serotonin in your brain regulates your mood… When serotonin is at normal levels, you feel more focused, emotionally stable, happier, and calmer.” During the winter though, reduced amounts of sunlight result in reduced levels of serotonin production. The lack of sunshine also means increased melatonin production creating an imbalance; both of which contribute to seasonal depression.

"During the winter though, reduced amounts of sunlight result in reduced levels of serotonin production."
Dominic Wu, MD, of the Harvard Health Blog explains, “We are governed by circadian rhythms, our body’s natural clock that helps regulate important functions including sleep/wake cycles and mood,” Wu goes on to explain that during the colder months, this rhythm is thrown off its usual course. This shift is also due to a lack of sunlight, which relates back to the symptoms of those with SAD described above. To help combat such symptoms, there are minuscule changes that can be made in everyday life. Some of these changes are as simple as the foods you eat. Foods like pineapple, salmon, and eggs have high levels of tryptophan, the amino acid from which serotonin is produced, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Other ways to achieve better mental health are, “Exercising, eating nutritious foods, practicing mindfulness, and maintaining social support systems,” as written by Wu. Employing even one or two of these techniques will assist in creating a healthier mental state during the dark, dreary months we face each winter. If you are experiencing any troubles be sure to visit the Student Health and Counseling Center on campus, located at the bottom of New Residence Hall.
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