January marks the beginning of deep winter in Alabama. The novelty of brisk, chilly weather has worn off and the emotional high of the holidays has been grounded. Stretching ahead is a cold, dark winter.
For some, this means grappling with seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.), also known as the winter blues or seasonal depression.
Professionals in and around Auburn University share ways to outsmart the wintertime doldrums.
Josh Jones, informal campus recreation coordinator at the Auburn Student Recreation and Wellness Center, champions staying active during the winter to stave off the blues.
"You feel a sense of accomplishment," Jones said about working out.
Whether it's meeting fitness goals or trying a new skill for the first time, physical activity can increase self-esteem.
Jones reassured students who may be apprehensive about jumping into a new work-out regimen. "The great thing about the Rec Center is that we have something for everyone here," Jones said.
Social exercise is another way to boost one's mood, according to Jones.
Working out with friends or playing an organized team sport provides adrenaline-pumping activity and requires socializing, which is important for those who feel like hibernating all winter.
Students working out at the Recreation and Wellness Center have the advantage of an energizing, stress-reducing environment.
The light-conscious design of the Rec Center interior employs large windows, courtyards and banner-sized prints of Chewacla State Park.
"The idea in designing the rec was to bring the outdoors indoors," Jones said.
For Yolande Wersinger, nutrition specialist and owner of Dayspring Natural Foods, being outdoors is crucial for beating S.A.D.
"In Eastern philosophy, they say that the saints go out in the morning to worship the sun. They don't," Wersinger said.
When the monks meditated outdoors they were treating S.A.D. with what Wersinger considers the best natural remedy--sunlight.
"They were 'enlightened,' you see," Wersinger said laughing.
Getting the right amount of sleep is another simple way to avoid feeling down in the winter, Wersinger said.
A sufficient sleep cycle and exposure to sunlight are connected, Wersinger explained.
Light is most easily absorbed by the pineal gland in the morning. The vitamin D absorbed from sunlight creates a delayed release of the hormones melatonin and serotonin, which are essential for sleep.
To get adequate levels of vitamin D, Wersinger recommended exposing the face and arms to the sunlight for 15 minutes three times a week, or investing in a full-spectrum lamp.
Vitamin D also enters the body through food and vitamin supplements. Eggs, shiitake mushrooms, oatmeal, salmon, sardines, sweet potato, tuna and alfalfa are some foods containing vitamin D.
Patrick O'Keefe of Auburn, a senior counseling psychologist in Fort Benning, Ga., advised students who may be experiencing S.A.D. symptoms to scale back on their workload and be open to the idea that they may be in the wrong major.
"A little bit of reality may be setting right about this time," O'Keefe said. "I think where students probably struggle more is the context of expectation and acceptance."
O'Keefe considers college a time of important self-discovery that can be overwhelming to students, which can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and even depression.
O'Keefe advised students to take a serious look at their field of study.
"Discover your purpose and your passion will follow," O'Keefe said. "Find the vocation that gives you personal satisfaction."
Pressure to maintain a perfect GPA can contribute to anxiety and depression as well.
Some students turn to excessive drinking or recreational drug use to escape such stressors.
"When you start drinking a lot and smoking pot, you set yourself back, and you start feeling more overwhelmed so then you drink more and it just becomes a vicious cycle," O'Keefe said.
Counseling and psychotherapy can help students with stress-management.
O'Keefe encouraged students who have been diagnosed as clinically depressed or have a chemical imbalance to seek either their primary care physician or psychiatrist who may prescribe medication for some cases of S.A.D.
Ultimately for O'Keefe, finding balance in life is key to avoiding depressive symptoms in winter.
"We're bio, psycho, social, spiritual people," O'Keefe said.
Being able to remain physically healthy, psychologically at ease and cultivate positive relationships can fortify students against the winter blues.
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