Avoid winter time blues with these steps

Winter can be a fun time of the year but also depressing. The sun sets early, and the darkness can be draining for some people. The cold weather can be difficult day after day. The layering is tiring, you can be too cold then suddenly too cold. The holidays gift the winter months fun and energy, but then the great depression of January sets in. Often people will begin to make resolutions in order to start the New Year. This is a great idea, to set goals for the new year, and starting off fresh on the calendar is such a great feeling. 

More often than not, most resolution makers will lose focus. Sometimes from boredom, sometimes from distractions, but there is another seasonal difficulty that makes it hard to get things done. Something as simple as not getting enough sun can really put a damper on staying motivated in the winter. 

Studies from leading health centers show that people need a certain amount of sunlight to retain mental balance during the long winters. Often people suffer from seasonal affective disorder otherwise known as SAD. SAD is a type of depression disorder that happens towards the beginning of a new season, often starting during the fall and throughout the winter months. Usually subsiding by spring. According to the Mayo Clinic some symptoms may include,feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, having low energy and feeling sluggish, sleeping too much, and this is just a few! 

This disorder can be particularly difficult for young students and even teachers as the repeating pattern of the school day can get you down after a while, especially during the winter months. What can be done to help students?

Some studies have shown that something as simple as sitting in front of artificial lights can help a person. According to Dr.Kain of the Cleveland Clinic,Sun lamps positively impact your body’s regulation of melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep-wake cycle, as well as serotonin, which helps regulate your mood by relaying signals in your brain. One study reports that bright-light therapy is now considered to be the first line of treatment for SAD. At the University of Iowa in Iowa city, one department takes SAD very seriously. The Student  Wellness Center offers help to students who suffer from SAD during the winter. They offer a very interesting solution for students: the free rental of light boxes for the winter months! Rebecca Don, who heads the light box initiative at the Student Wellness Center, answered these questions about the service.

  1. In the use of light boxes for Seasonal Affective Disorder, how does

a student feel after using a lightbox?

“The short answer to your question is that individuals who use the light box in a consistent fashion report fewer symptoms of SAD. You can see some of our previous data show students report before and after using the Light Box. 

  1. If the lightbox is ineffective on the student, what other ways 

does the Wellness Center recommend dealing with SAD?

When it comes to supporting good emotional health, I don’t consider that there is one magic tool, but rather there are a lot of ways folks can help feel their best. We have a great counseling center on campus, which can be what folks think of first, but there are so many other ways to support mental health. Through our office in the last couple years we’ve starting offering mindfulness programs, which have been receiving really positive feedback: https://studentwellness.uiowa.edu/programs/mindfulness  Healthy diet or movement can also boost emotional health, and students can make appointments to talk with our dietitian or fitness consultant about what strategies might work best for them personally. Good sleep is so important to mental health, so we also offer sleep programs: https://studentwellness.uiowa.edu/programs/refresh Some folks find specific activities can be helpful, like journaling, or creative efforts through music or art.


The exposure to sunlight appears to be vital during the long months of winter. Spending time outside on sunny days, walking, skating or just clearing the driveway is a free and easy way to get a dose of vitamin D from the sun. If the weather is particularly bad, light boxes are an over the counter possibility with no prescription needed from a doctor. Drug free too! Getting enough sunlight is key to winter mental health, and In doing so, you might feel more motivated to get through all the resolutions that come to mind during the new year. Imagine all that you could do during long winter months. No need to hibernate like a bear, so get out there and soak up some rays!

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