How to survive winter

Image of UWL's Hoeschler Tower with students walking during winter.

UWL psychologist shares background on SAD, helpful tips

Embarking on a several-month-long span of limited daylight and frigid temperatures causes some to wonder whether they are experiencing SAD — Seasonal Affective Disorder.

SAD is actually not a current diagnostic term. What people refer to when they talk about SAD is either a mood disorder or depressive disorder that is related to a change in seasons, says Gretchen Reinders, director of UWL’s Counseling & Testing Center.

Reinders shared details about SAD, as well as ideas for staying emotionally and physically healthy during a presentation “Surviving Winter” Wednesday, Jan. 10, at the Student Union.

Symptoms of SAD include low energy, excessive sleepiness, overeating and weight gain, cravings for carbohydrates and social withdrawal. SAD is diagnosed four times more often in women than men and is also more likely to effect people living at latitudes farther away from the equator. Having a family history of SAD or a personal history of depression or bipolar disorder also increases risk. Also, those between the ages of 20-30 have a higher risk than do people over 30, notes Reinders.

Treatments include talking to a therapist, medication, light therapy or increasing intake of vitamin D.

Reinders focused on light therapy as a primary treatment for SAD. It requires using a specific lamp that mimics exposure to natural daylight. Tanning beds are not a substitute for light therapy, she says, adding they are not recommended because of the health risks they present.

A light therapy lamp should provide 10,000 Lux of cool-white fluorescent light. Reinders advised researching lamps and consulting with a medical or mental health provider before purchasing one. Timing of when to use the lamp, for how long and distance and orientation in relation to it are all important considerations. Also, talking to a provider is recommended prior to light therapy as some pre-existing conditions and medications could cause complications.

Tips to feel better in winter:

  • Experience as much daylight as possible
  • Eat healthy
  • Spend time with friends and family
  • Stay active
  • Seek professional help if you need to (UWL Counseling & Testing can offer faculty and staff referrals. The center also provides student treatment and light therapy lamps for loan to students.)

The event was organized by UWL’s Organization for Campus Women. OCW membership is open to all UWL faculty and staff; all are welcome to attend OCW events throughout the year. Learn more about the group that aims to connect people across campus while promoting equal opportunity for women.