Among other things, such as its wide variety of academic colleges and Division I athletics, Syracuse is known nationally for its infamously frigid and harsh winter season. Syracuse only sees 63 mostly-sunny days annually (1), much less than the whopping 211 sunny days seen annually in Phoenix, Arizona and 188 days in Sacramento, California (2).
This lack of sunshine is capable of causing physiological changes inside the body, sometimes leading to symptoms of depression. In extreme cases, this can progress to something called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which is characterized by “serious mood changes during the winter months,” manifesting as symptoms such as feelings of hopelessness, irritability, fatigue, difficulty sleeping and fluctuations in weight (3). People living in the northern hemisphere, such as New York, are 2 ½ times more likely to experience SAD than those living in southern states (4).
While you can’t change Mother Nature’s forecast, there are strategies you can use to cope with the change in seasons to prevent developing symptoms of seasonal depression.
- Expose yourself to as much light as possible during the day. Walk to class instead of taking a bus or shuttle, do work outside or sit near a window in the library, or even consider purchasing a light box to place on the desk in your room. Researchers believe that exposure to light increases the amount of serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter in your body which may help to prevent feelings of depression (5).
- Laugh. Resist the temptation to hole up in your room with a cup of hot chocolate watching holiday movies alone. Make an effort to spend as much time with friends and loved ones as possible—a good conversation and laughter can work wonders to improve mood.
- Increase consumption of vitamin D rich foods. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, many individuals suffering from SAD have low levels of vitamin D stores. Study subjects who were given supplemental vitamin D reported improvements in a depression scale test, suggesting that this vitamin may play an important role in the prevention of seasonal depression (6). Fill your refrigerator or dining hall plate with salmon, eggs (with the yolk!), and milk for a punch of vitamin D.
- Choose carbohydrates An increase in cravings for carbohydrates is a common symptom experienced by those suffering from seasonal depression. Stay on track with your healthy diet by choosing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables over simple sugars to fulfill your carbohydrate needs.
- Keep your exercise routine consistent. Regular exercise not only boosts mood but it also provides another opportunity to get outside and expose yourself to sunlight. Take a 30-minute walk outside or ask a friend to join you for yoga or other group exercise class.
The winters in Syracuse are rough, but with the right strategies it is possible to survive the bitter cold and clouds and make it until spring with a positive outlook! Focus on the things in life that make you happy… especially when you’re trudging through two feet of snow on your way to class wondering why you didn’t go to school in Florida.
By Julie Kameisha
1) “Days of Sunshine Per Year in New York.” Current Results. Current Results Nexus, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
2) Osborn, Liz. “Sunniest US Cities.” Current Results. Current Results Nexus, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
3) “Seasonal Affective Disorder: MedlinePlus.” U.S National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health, 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
4) Silver, Rich. “What Is SAD Disorder? How Many People Have It?” Sleep Passport. Sleep Passport, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
5) “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
6) W, Alam, and Hollis B. “Vitamin D vs Broad Spectrum Phototherapy in the Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder.” Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging 3.1 (1999): n. pag. PubMed. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.