Jemima Huston describes what it’s like living with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Have you got the winter blues? Have you skipped a lecture simply because it’s raining and you’ve broken yet another £5 umbrella? Or maybe, you’ve just bought spontaneous tickets to Thailand because the humid, warm weather there is calling your name? Are you just generally feeling SAD? If you thought yes to any of these questions, I can tell you that you are not alone. Like you, this Kiwi gal knows the struggle of seasonal depression and the toll it can take on your mental and physical health.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. Generally, winter is when most people are affected by SAD and it can be felt to varying degrees. Some symptoms are low mood, feelings of despair and guilt, feeling lethargic, and sleeping for longer than normal.
After looking up these symptoms, I’ll be honest: I think that SAD has got me this winter. I am an exchange student at the University of Glasgow this semester from Auckland, New Zealand. So, that means in January I left a very hot and beautiful summer in the islands that I call home, to plunge into the depths of Scottish winter in Glasgow. Before I set off, my friends, family, and even the grouchy regulars at my work, all warned me about how cold and dark it gets in Glasgow during the winter. One friend even suggested I stock up on vitamin D tablets before I go. However, I didn’t pay much attention to this advice and instead thought that as a tough, South Island-born girl (it gets much colder in the South of New Zealand than the North) that I’d be fine! But boy, I was wrong.
Within my first few days in Glasgow, I quickly realised that winters in Scotland are no joke. When I got here the sun was setting at 3.30pm when I had never seen the sun set before 5pm in my whole life. On my first night out, I was lined up outside a bar and it started to snow. After two months in Glasgow, I am still wearing a full set of woollen thermals under multiple layers of clothes and I have never appreciated the sun coming out as much as I do now. Surprisingly, Gregg’s has been my knight in shining armour through it all - craving carbohydrates is meant to be a very common symptom of SAD. The abundance of scones and pastries in this country have not gone unnoticed or uneaten by me this winter. Warm bread just makes you feel better, doesn’t it?
During these months in Glasgow, I have felt exhausted, unmotivated to study, and unable to be as active as I normally am. I have also found myself sleeping in more often than usual, even to my standards as a self-proclaimed enthusiast of the snooze function. I think that experiencing my first Scottish winter right off the back of a climate-crisis-aided, unusually hot New Zealand summer, has meant that my SAD is more pronounced than it has been in the past which has had a bigger effect on my physical and mental health.
It is not completely clear why people get SAD in the winter. It's thought that the lack of sunlight due to the shorter autumn and winter days may be the main cause. One theory is that a lack of sun stops the hypothalamus from working as it should which may affect your levels of melatonin and serotonin, which ultimately impact your appetite, body clock, and happiness. So in theory, the limited hours of sunlight and the unlimited number of rainy days in Scotland are probably not the best for anyone’s seasonal mood.
So let it be known that it is okay and probably quite normal to get into a funk in the winter. If you’re concerned about it in any way you can always seek advice from your GP. Otherwise, focusing on exercising regularly, getting outside every day, and managing your study stress can really help. Well, at least they say it does! I mean, I’ve told you to do it now so I should probably follow my own advice. Catch me in the uni gym and far away from any sort of baked delight from now onwards!