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).


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 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!