‘Tis the season to be SAD

Junior Tony Rodriguez using a HappyLight.

It’s not unusual to see cadets outside the chapel on the coldest days of the year, blowing bubbles, watching them freeze and roll along the concrete.

Rev. William Wick has seen nearly three decade’s worth of Vermont winters, and while his office may be decorated in skiing memorabilia, he understands that the snow may not bring joy to everyone. This is why Wick keeps bubble-blowing supplies in the cabinet of his office: It’s a way to combat the blues that can come with a long winter.

“Those who have been here longer, know that it’s coming again. First thing for anything, you may anticipate cold stuff, but don’t know what it’s like to walk through it,” Wick said. “Sometimes they don’t realize what is happening, sometimes they’re aware of it and they can adjust. Other times it’s a ‘Why am I feeling this way?’”

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common ailment, affecting around three million Americans yearly, according to the Mayo Clinic (https://www. mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651). Students at Norwich are no stranger to it.

In Vermont, winters are dark, cold, and long. Students can find themselves spending more times indoors, and less time in the sun. This is where SAD can begin to manifest.

Most of the symptoms students at NU experience are the same.

“I just notice when it becomes winter, it gets darker, more frequently I have less motivation to do things, I’m just less happy,” said Jocelyn Snyder, an 18-year-old civil engineering major from Bethlehem, Pa.

Snyder said that while SAD does not negatively affect her academics, she does focus heavily on them and can end up neglecting her relationships and isolating herself.

“In the summer, I’m definitely more joyful and euphoric. In the winter I can see more of a saddening feeling or mild depression come in,” said Anthony Marabello, a junior health science major from Princeton, Mass. Marabello said that it’s common for him to be sad for no reason, or to find a “way to get down about something.”

Those feelings are classic examples of SAD. “It’s a subset of depression and what it looks like is the lack of motivation, having a hard time getting up in the morning, and feeling tired. It’s usually related to the amount of light and outdoor activity you’re getting,” said Nicole Krotinger, who is the director of Norwich’s Counseling and Wellness Center. “The full spectrum light of the sun helps in terms of creating more mood stability. It’s really a depression related to the seasons.”

Rev. Wick stressed the importance of knowing that SAD is not only triggered by the cold. “I’ve seen it in the fall and the spring depending upon where the student is from. Spring weather is nice and (the students) hate to study, they feel trapped inside. Folks say they want to go and play.”

Krotinger echoed his statements as well, “I think students spend a lot more time indoors during the winter, so that alone can create a lower energy level. Everyone on campus having a harder time with motivation is something we do tend to see here.”

Typically, students who have attended school for more than a year can understand the changes occurring in their mood and find ways to combat it early. Rev. Wick compared it to getting shots; the first shot typically hurts, and once people see that needle again, they dread it.

“I try to find hobbies or occupy myself, whether that be school work, exercise, or being around close friends,” Marabello said. Snyder finds comfort in listening or writing music, as well as talking to her family.

In some ways it’s harder for those who have been here for a while. Those who are from the south think that ‘I’d rather not go where it’s cold, but I have to get my degree, I got my contract for the military,’ they feel kind of locked that way.”

While Norwich is in a particularly wintry part of the U.S., its rate of SAD matches the national standard. Rev. Wick said that the effects of SAD can be different depending on where a student lives.

“Partly it’s where students come from, if they’re from the South this is horrible, if they’re from the North this is fine,” Wick said. “With academics and cold weather, a lot of folks that want to venture outside can go stir crazy. They can get very depressed. Other people want to go play in the snow.”

Norwich’s chaplain recommends finding healthy outlets for the frustration and sadness, to do something that is “constructive, not destructive,” In the closet found in his office, there are bubble wands and solutions, which he takes students who are having an especially challenging time in the cold outside to blow bubbles.

He says the bubbles are a way to keep things interesting in the numbing and persistent cold.

A typical treatment to deal with SAD is the use of full spectrum therapy lights. Krotinger recommends the use of a “HappyLight.” The counseling center utilizes HappyLights to help students perk up their moods during the dark and icy winters. HappyLights claim to boost moods and serotonin levels by mimicking sunlight. Students can also regulate sleep cycles using the device.

“Those are helpful, study in front of them in the morning and that can help your whole day,” Krotinger said. The HappyLight room in the center features comfortable chairs, meditation CDs, as well as tasks like puzzles to pass time. “It wakes up the brain in the morning, if you do it every day you create that pattern which is helpful because the brain will get in the pattern of not being excited to be awake.

In combination with the light, Krotinger recommends taking multivitamins, especially vitamin D.

Rev. Wick also heavily stressed talking to people as an outlet and compared the growing frustration of SAD to a balloon.

“Think of a balloon full of air, either it explodes, or it could shoot off and release (the air) in a safe way,” Wick said. “There has to be some vehicle by which an individual can express what they’re feeling or process with a friend.”

Krotinger echoed his response, she said students “tend to isolate themselves” and recommends them connecting with other students, whether that be through a club or any other groups on campus.

Rev. Wick also heavily emphasized the importance of friendship and compassion towards those who are dealing with SAD.

“Friendship is huge. Friends exist inside, outside, hot weather, cold weather. Don’t be a Lone Ranger,” Wick said. “When one feels that growing frustration, don’t keep it to yourself. We are not made to be lone rangers, even Lone Ranger had Tonto, Batman had Robin. Good humor, a smile, a caring look, giving time to someone, is huge.”

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