Winter Blues and SAD

Fall quarter is almost over and you’re probably ready for winter break. Going home for the holidays can be great – and it can be exhausting. You’ll be transitioning from a full class load with many responsibilities to resuming your role at home and seeing family and friends. While taking a break from a busy schedule can be a stress reliever, the winter blues can creep up on you.

You might notice some changes in how you act and feel, such as increased appetite, less energy or difficulty getting out of bed, less interest in things you usually like doing, or more irritability or sadness. While some of the changes might sound like signs of depression, they could be due to another mental health problem – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it just depends on how much these things are affecting you. SAD usually affects people in the winter months and is even more common in places like Seattle, where the sun sets and rises noticeably later in the winter months. To learn more about SAD, check out the video below:

What can you do to fight the winter blues or signs of SAD?

  • Try creating a routine for yourself over winter break, like picking a time to wake up every day.
  • Schedule easy acts of self-care, like taking a walk, or drinking your favorite tea.

Depression in all its forms can be a serious problem. If you think this might be what you are going through you should seek help and more information (like from the SPU Counseling Center). Remember, it’s okay to reach out if you are having a rough time and could use some extra support. It’s important to get help so you can start feeling better sooner.

Faculty Spotlight: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sometimes mistaken for the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during different times of the year, often associated with the changing of the seasons. Younger adults, specifically women, and individuals living farther from the equator are at a higher risk for developing SAD. Similar to depression, SAD shares many of the same symptoms, including sad or depressed mood, irritability, low energy, and feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt. However, SAD symptoms differ in that they include increased appetite, weight gain, and over-sleeping.1

Despite depression being more well-known, researchers have suggested SAD is more common among undergraduate populations.1 In one study, undergraduates with SAD scored high on cognitive failures (memory retrieval, perceptual discrimination, and attentional focus) similar to undergraduates with depression1, suggesting SAD can be as significant and debilitating as depression. It has been suggested that undergraduates may be experiencing higher rates of SAD during the winter months due to academic pressures of final exams and added stress from the holidays.2 However, research in an undergraduate population has shown that symptoms of SAD were highest and consistent through the months of December, January, and February, suggesting that SAD symptoms are not timed with exams and holidays.2

Common treatments for SAD include light therapy, medications, and therapy. Knowing the signs, symptoms, and being open to discussing of the impact seasonal affective disorder may have on undergraduates can serve to raise awareness and encourage students to reach out for additional support when needed.

1Sullivan, B. & Payne, T. W. (2007). Affective disorders and cognitive failures: A comparison of seasonal and nonseasonal depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164, 1663-1667.

2Rohan, S. T., & Sigmon, S. T. (2000). Seasonal mood patterns in a northeastern college sample. Journal of Affective Disorders, 59, 85-96.

Grief and the Holidays

We get many messages from our culture about how holidays are supposed to feel—happy, joyous, full of warm relationships with friends and family. But what about when they’re not? About 20-30% of undergraduates nationwide are in the process of grieving a loved one. Being a college student during the holiday season can be complicated enough on its own. Academic pressure and other responsibilities can leave you little time to deal with your feelings. This can be even more stressful if you’re trying to cope with the loss of a loved one, dealing with difficult family relationships, or if you’re dreading going home.

What are some of the ways you can handle grief during the holidays?

  • Find ways to talk about your feelings instead of bottling them up – say a prayer, share happy stories, or light a candle for the person you’re missing
  • Be kind to yourself – don’t push yourself to participate in holiday activities that are too much for you
  • Remember that grief is very personal – we all grieve and mourn the loss of loved ones in private and unique ways
  • Check out Actively Moving Forward, a group that empowers and connects college students to other college students going through the grieving process

Remembering to do little things over the holidays can help with sad and unhappy feelings. Find time for yourself away from others if being social is too much for you. Take time to make sure you are eating well and often enough. Schedule activities you enjoy doing – sit down and read that book or watch that movie you didn’t have time to read or watch during the quarter. Lastly, allow yourself time to recover from the holidays and remember that you are doing the best you can.

If you’re struggling or just need someone to talk to, you can always reach out to SPU’S Counseling Center or call the Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255).

Gratitude

Grief and difficult family members can make Thanksgiving hard to get through so sometimes being thankful during the holiday season can be a challenge. Gratitude, being thankful for things you already have, is a hot topic in positive psychology. Positive psychology examines the good things that people do, feel, and think in order to understand how to help people thrive and be happy.

Positive psychology has found that the more gratitude you have, the greater sense of well-being, happiness, and energy you may have.  Acknowledging the good things in your life can create more good things, like positive thoughts, higher self-esteem, and optimism. Your physical health may also improve as you express more gratitude. People who express more gratitude have reported fewer aches and pains and even better sleep. Expressing gratitude towards others you care about may also help improve those relationships. Gratitude can help you feel happier mentally and physically and improve relationships, and in turn, those things can help you deal with difficult challenges and improve your overall health.

What are some easy ways you can express gratitude?

  • Write down what you’re grateful for
  • Mentally say thank you, even for basic things in your life, like clean water, clean air to breathe
  • Express your gratitude to others through notes, texts, or phone calls
  • Pray or meditate

Gratitude not only makes you feel better but can bring happiness and good feelings to those around you. So, while you’re sitting down with friends and family for Thanksgiving and feeling thankful, try to remember that gratitude can be used and felt year round!

Consent

Consent culture has become a popular movement that is raising awareness about the importance of understanding, giving, and obtaining consent. The basic definition of consent is that it gives permission or agreement for something to happen. However, there is more to consent than just saying “no”. Here are some other aspects about consent to think about:

  1. Informed consent – you 100% know what you are getting into and there is an open and clear understanding between you and the other person of what is going to happen.
  2. Enthusiastic consent – if you are not excited to participate then check-in with yourself, do you really want to do this? Does the other person seem equally enthusiastic? If not, slow it down and check-in.
  3. Continuous consent – just because you say “yes” to one act, like kissing, does not mean you have agreed to other acts, consent is specific.
  4. Consent is freely given– you should never feel like you have to say “yes” out of guilt or fear.

In addition to different types of consent, it’s important to know that you can say no or change your mind at any time, to anyone. Consent involves clear communication about what each person is comfortable with and how each person’s boundaries can be respected. Consent is also a big part of healthy relationships. Unfortunately, in a study on consent, 11.7% of college students from 27 universities reported nonconsensual sexual contact.

A big part of creating and maintaining healthy relationships is communicating around consent to activities. It’s important to check-in with yourself when you’re in a situation where someone is asking you to give consent or do something you’re hesitant about. Ask yourself if you need a break to think about what you want to do.

If you have any doubts about participating in any activities with another person, give yourself time to think about it! You can always say, “I need to stop” or “I’m not feeling comfortable, can we slow it down?”. Check-in with the other person often, with open questions like “How are you feeling about this?” and if they seem less than enthusiastic, back up and take a break.

Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships can help increase physical and mental health. Close healthy relationships can even boost the immune system. Receiving positive and non-judgemental support from others can help reduce the stress and anxiety of everyday life. However, relationships are the most helpful when they not only help us go through difficult times, but also when they help us grow during the good times too.

As we discussed last week when talking about boundaries, creating healthy relationships also takes work – it requires that you know what healthy relationships are and that you take an active role in shaping them. To help you figure out if you’re in a healthy relationship or not, ask yourself, “How do I feel after spending time with them?” Healthy relationships usually leave people feeling supported, reflective, or challenged in a good way. Toxic relationships leave people filled with self-doubt, negativity, or worry more often than not. Besides setting boundaries with others, what are some of the ways you can develop healthy relationships?

  • Clear and honest communication
  • Admitting and accepting responsibility when you make a mistake
  • Supporting each other but not belittling or giving unwanted advice
  • Trusting the other person and giving them the benefit of the doubt
  • Not engaging in manipulation or intimidation

While this list might seem obvious – these issues can come up in any relationship, including your parents, friends, significant others, or mentors. It’s also easy for relationships to start out healthy and then become unhealthy or even toxic over time.

Toxic relationships can cause stress and other mental health problems that can impact you even when you’re not with the other person. They can make you more irritable, making it difficult to concentrate and perform well in class. Toxic relationships can even put you at a greater risk for physical health problems.

As you go through college, you will meet many different people and will have to navigate how to develop and maintain healthy relationships. Remember it’s healthy to put yourself first and to check-in with how the other person makes you feel. You can create healthy relationships that will help you handle stress and difficult times but that will also help you grow when things are going well!

Setting Healthy Boundaries with Friends

Healthy boundaries will help you shape calm and happy relationships with friends, classmates, and coworkers. Healthy boundaries are about setting expectations and limits around how we treat ourselves and the people around us. Setting limits around how you allow yourself to be treated and how you treat other people can help boost your sense of self-worth and self-respect. It can be stressful when others test your boundaries, and even more stressful when you’re unsure how to address those situations. You may end up saying “yes” to things you don’t want to do, which can also cause stress.

  1. The first step to setting healthy boundaries is to check in with how you are feeling. If you’re feeling upset or stressed out, be curious about what is going on. Taking the time to understand how much a situation is affecting your emotions can help you decide where to set a boundary so that you can let others know your limits.
  2. After deciding to set a boundary, the next step is to advocate for yourself and be assertive. Assertive communication lets others know what your wants and needs are, while also considering the other person. Letting others know your expectations is a way to stand-up for yourself and how you want to be treated.
  3. Learn to say no! A difficult part of setting healthy boundaries is letting others know when you can’t take on anymore tasks or when you need time to yourself.

Lastly, it can be hard to develop and maintain boundaries. It will not always be easy to let others know how you feel and how you want to be treated. It will take practice and repetition. However, setting boundaries with others is a way to be kind to yourself. It’s important to recognize that setting boundaries is not selfish and everyone has boundaries. Check out Dr. Brené Brown’s 3 Ways to Set Boundaries for more tips on setting healthy boundaries!

Faculty Spotlight: Dating and Intimate Partner Violence

Dating violence, also known as intimate partner violence, includes controlling behavior, emotional and physical abuse, and aggressive behavior. Dating violence among college students is exceptionally high, ranging from 20-50%, and can happen to anyone regardless of age, sex, race, or background.1 College students are often entering and exiting relationships, sometimes for the first time, and healthy dating behavior may not even be known. Given the impact that dating violence may have on students, it is important that faculty and staff be aware of the warning signs dating violence, including excessive emails or texting, extreme jealousy, and false accusations.

Understanding students’ perceptions of domestic violence and dating violence may help faculty and staff increase awareness and support students. Research on beliefs around dating violence has indicated that college students often endorse the myth that women can find ways to get out of abusive relationships if they wanted.1 College student perceptions of women instigating fights leading to physical violence has also been endorsed.1 Unfortunately, this stigma around women not being able to help themselves, or perhaps instigating fights, can have negative consequence for women that do need help. The shame accompanied with the stigma may prevent or limit women from reaching out.

Men are also subject to stigma around dating violence. Media portrayals of men as aggressors may discount the fact that men are victims of dating violence. College students who reported beliefs of men being more dominant also indicated narrower views of dating violence.2 This could suggest that college students who have more education on dating violence may also have less stigmatized views of men as aggressors. The stigma around men as victims of dating violence is often accompanied with shame for men who experience dating violence from their partners.

What can you do for students who may be experiencing dating violence or intimate partner violence?

Lastly, just providing students with information around what dating violence is can be impactful – give them the chance to say something.

1Nabors, E. L., Dietz, T. L., & Jasinkski, J. L. (2006). Domestic violence beliefs and perceptions among college students. Violence and Victims, 21, 779-795.

2Jiao, Y., Sun, Y. I., Farmer, A. K., & Lin, K. (2016). College students’ definitions of intimate partner violence: A comparative study of three Chinese societies. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 31, 1208-1229. doi: 10.1177/0886260514564162

Time Management

College is a time of go, go, go. You have a lot happening – you have classes, a personal life you’re trying to keep up with, and your own mental and physical health. How can you balance it all?

Creating structure for yourself, such as studying at the same time every week, can help you balance your academic workload. Creating a routine can alleviate the stress of not knowing what is coming up next or being surprised by deadlines. Try sitting down once a week to make a list of everything coming up the next week that you need to do, then pull out a calendar or planner and assign dates and time slots to each task. This can help you tackle the upcoming week with less stress!

The time you’ve had available to spend on your social life can fade as Fall quarter deadlines start to creep up. Having trouble squeezing in friend time? Double up! Create study dates with friends and spend the first 30 minutes to an hour catching up on life. It’s important to keep a healthy personal life balance because you cannot be in school mode all the time. It’s not good for your brain, or your mood!

Finding time to exercise is important, but mental health often gets pushed to the back-burner when trying to manage your time. Self-care is especially important when working and living in the stressful environment of college. Schedule time to do activities you enjoy and bring you a sense of peace – maybe this is reading a fiction book, watching a movie, or even making yourself a good meal. Treat yourself.

Lastly, when managing your time and trying to find balance, don’t be afraid to say “no” to extra activities or responsibilities. You don’t have to do it all and it’s better to find balance and success!

Setting Goals

Setting goals is a common way to motivate yourself into action. But setting the wrong kinds of goals can have unexpected consequences on your mood. Setting unrealistic goals can cause you unnecessary stress and lead to feelings of failure for not meeting those goals. Setting goals that are realistic can motivate you and help you find success.

How can you set realistic goals? Try using this method! Good goals are SMART, which stands for:

  • Specific goals are not too vague and include important details like what, who, when, where, and why. Doing well in class is a great goal, but the goal of studying every Monday is a better and more specific goal.
  • Measurable goals let you know when the goal has been met. For example, setting a goal to study for two hours is measurable compared to setting a goal to just study.
  • Attainable goals are realistic. Maybe you want to start exercising more – but getting to the Olympics from the couch might be difficult in a quarter. Try setting a goal of a weekly walk!
  • Relevant goals can help you prioritize. For example, it might be more important to study for a test that is happening tomorrow than to try to get ahead for readings in another class.
  • Time based goals can also help you meet deadlines on time, for example, setting aside a chunk of time a week before a paper is due to write, is going to help you meet your goal of finishing the paper on time (and not at the last minute!).

Lastly, while it might be helpful for you to follow S.M.A.R.T. goals to find success, it’s important to recognize what your individual strengths are and to utilize them. Maybe you perform better under shorter deadlines or setting a slightly higher than attainable goal will motivate you even more to complete a task. Maybe you will benefit more from smaller, easier goals at first. Regardless, be kind to yourself and remember you can always adjust your goals!