Although many people believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is just feeling sad because it is gray, and the weather is cold, it is actually much more complicated than that. Upper School Counselor Ellye Millaway explains “SAD is connected to our body’s circadian rhythm, which can change in the winter months due to less exposure to sunlight. A small part of the hypothalamus in our brain, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, takes light information from our eyes and tells our body whether or not to produce melatonin, a hormone that prepares our body for sleep. Since there is less sunlight in the winter months, our suprachiasmatic nucleus tells our body to produce more melatonin.”
This production of extra melatonin causes people to feel sluggish and tired. Mrs. Millaway says “SAD makes it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and can affect your mood throughout the day.” Although these seem like normal symptoms, people who have SAD experience these symptoms more intensely.
Since the weather is cold, going outside and getting sunlight is one of the best ways to prevent the effects of SAD. Since that may be hard to do, Mrs. Millaway explains “It is also helpful to do things that make you feel good that release other mood-boosting chemicals in your brain, like exercising or taking a walk with a friend, to counteract the impact of the overproduction of melatonin. Also, you should limit screen time before bed because that will disrupt your circadian rhythm even more.”
SAD is something that affects many students and sometimes its symptoms can be very difficult to avoid. Mrs. Millaway wants students to know, “If you are feeling sluggish, sad, irritable or anxious, you can always come talk to an Upper School counselor.”
Senior and Student Advisory Board (SAB) President Mia Williams says “SAB wanted to do something this month that involved many of the high school students, but also wanted to support anyone with SAD. To do that we decided to have a Beach Day indoors filled with games like Limbo and Hula Hooping and Reggae music!” The purpose of this event was to bring cheer and summer positivity to the student body when the weather is cold and they may be experiencing SAD. “I think it was a huge success and many people have said it brightened their day! SAB will definitely do it again or something similar to continue improving the student body’s mental health,” Williams says.