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Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Soleil H.A.

What do you think of when light comes to mind? You could see the lamp sitting at your desk or maybe the hand-painted sun at the corner of your canvas. It could be the stars in the sky or your flashlight. Whatever it is, there’s more to it than your average corner sun or study lamp, for light is something that we cannot see fully for what it is. And without it, there’s no doubt you and I would be very different people.

Humans are light-driven beings. We thrive off the light given to us in more ways than one, such as keeping us fulfilled both mentally and physically. And in exchange, we continue our journey of life. Humans have constructed such a strong connection with the sun that a single cloudy day can send one into seasonal affective disorder (better known as SAD). Nearly 3% of the global population suffers from seasonal affective disorder. And there is a rational reason behind it.

The brain is such a complex entity, and it continues to be the least-understood organ of the human body, with neural connections pushing the limit of our understanding. SAD is simply a product of the outside world, especially as the seasons keep changing and the amount of sunlight begins to deplete.

The science behind the reality of SAD begins with the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a division of the brain that is located right below the thalamus. It controls many aspects of your body, one of them being the homeostatic systems. Homeostasis is the equilibrium of your body, with it allowing you to perform all the average, yet necessary, functions to survive. Photosensitive cells in the eyes allow light to enter the brain. This therefore affects the circadian rhythm depending on how much light enters the body. Too little light can lead to a dip in serotonin levels, of which directly impacts your mood. Depression usually comes at this stage, and for some, anxiety and mania.

Seasonal affective disorder occurs more commonly in those living further north of the globe due to a lessened amount of sunlight, making it crucial that one receives 15-30 minutes of sunlight each day, no matter their location. The consequences of not meeting the beneficial amount of sunlight daily can advance the dwindling mass of gray matter, otherwise known as the outermost part of the brain. The longer depression extends, the more gray matter one will lose. Gray matter is responsible for a number of important functions in the brain, including the control of movement, memories and emotions. 

Thankfully, there are numerous ways that one can combat their progressional loss of gray matter. And better yet, boost it, allowing for further cognitive development of the brain to occur. Some outlets of mental exhaustion seem overrated or dull, yet all have an important part to play in one’s journey to a balanced state of mind.

Meditation is one of these outlets. A common practice, it has been scientifically proven that the improvements coupled with it are far greater than your wildest expectations. Meditation happens to increase gray matter while additionally leaving the meditater in an uplifted mood. Meditation has been known for increasing levels of serotonin and melatonin to promote fulfillment and relaxation, both of which are feelings that those at the hands of SAD could be deprived of. 

An alternative way to channel a more positive mindset is through the combined efforts of  journaling and yoga. Journaling is an incredibly useful tool in which one can put pestering thoughts onto paper. Yoga is an excellent way of incorporating the physical with the emotional. With both tools at hand, one can mentally succeed.

Journaling is utilized differently for everyone. Some people braindump and others use shadow work. Some may even, for example, write ten pages on the best soup they’ve ever had, but knowing that your journal doesn’t have to hold groundbreaking discoveries or be for anyone else allows you to be more honest with yourself. The simple truth of journaling is that there are no expectations attached. And the main goal is to understand your own thinking from a clearer perspective.

Yoga is a force of balance. It gives the bond between body and mind a strength unlike any other. and when made use of, it can become a habit of influence. Yoga can provide a sense of support in shooing depression away through the power of pose. Some of the best poses in the fight against SAD or depression happen to be the child’s pose, corpse pose and the bridge pose. Yoga can decrease symptoms of depression, but it’s important to note that while it’s not a complete cure, it can lighten the load that depression brings.

Although all of these activities are steps on the ladder to emotional security, any activity that brings you joy or calm will have more positive impacts to bring upon your mental health. Remember that the Wellness Center at school is always there to support you, and asking for help is not weakness, but strength. It’s normal to worry, it’s normal sometimes not to feel and it’s normal to feel pressure, because diamonds are formed under pressure and we can’t stay carbon forever.

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