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Opinion: Students can mitigate seasonal depression by embracing weather, taking precautions

Students clutch their umbrellas as they walk on campus during a rainstorm last year. With the prospect of colder and wetter winters in Los Angeles on the horizon, Bruins can act to mitigate the effects of seasonal affective disorder. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Danielle Taylor

Jan. 28, 2024 9:03 p.m.

Winter quarter can be a rough time for many Bruins. With the cloudy skies, heavy rain and overall gloomy days, the poor weather may take a toll on students’ mental health and ability to thrive academically, emotionally and socially.

Last year was a record-shattering year for rainfall in Los Angeles. Researchers at the UCLA Center for Climate Science are projecting that seasons of heavy rainfall could become our new norm because of climate change.

Colder temperatures, shorter days and rainy skies can impact people in various ways. While some thrive in these conditions and look forward to the winter season, others like me experience challenges when the temperature drops, which makes daily life much more difficult.

If LA is trending toward colder, wetter weather in the winter months, it is important to establish positive, healthy habits to beat the winter blues.

Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, is the depressive state caused by seasonal change and is most prevalent in fall and winter. The symptoms include fatigue, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite and anxiety.

While many students may attribute their mental health issues during winter to personal problems, scientists believe winter weather can trigger a drop in serotonin in the brain, leading to symptoms of depression.

According to a 2010 study, 13.2% of college students reported signs of seasonal depression and 19.7% reported having subsyndromal seasonal depression, meaning they met some but not all of the diagnosis criteria. Students commuting from warmer climates are especially vulnerable because of the major temperature adjustment.

I have experienced symptoms of both seasonal depression and anxiety. I lived in LA for the first nine years of my life. Then my family moved to Seattle, and I went from near-constant sun to near-constant clouds.

Seattle is the cloudiest major city in the lower 48 states and one of the rainiest cities in America. Daylight hours are shorter, with the winter solstice being a mere eight and a half hours of daylight.

Needless to say, winters can be tough in Seattle.

About four years into the move, I started to notice that the weather was impacting my mood. The activities that I usually loved to do, like sports, were a tremendous struggle. I slept more hours, lacked motivation in my classwork and ate one to two extra meals every day.

I counted the days until summertime.

I had to learn how to adapt to my new environment and found a few things that helped me thrive during gloomy days. UCLA students who are impacted by the weather might consider implementing some of these strategies to make the winter months more enjoyable.

1. Invest in warm, waterproof winter clothes. This seems intuitive, but it took me a few winters to adjust my wardrobe to reflect the inclement weather. You’re only going to be miserable – and potentially get soaked – if you aren’t prepared for the season.

This may mean packing extra socks when you go out, buying a waterproof – not just water resistant – rain jacket and finding some fun, colored rain boots.

2. Make special winter traditions. I tended to struggle less with seasonal depression symptoms in the years when I fully embraced the weather.

For example, on the first rainy day of the season, I go to a cafe, buy my favorite hot drink and open a new book. Additionally, making a special rainy day playlist and taking a rain walk – with the proper clothes, of course – can make a gloomy day much brighter.

3. Try your best to stop complaining. Attitude is arguably the hardest thing to change. On rainy days, I’ve noticed that Angelenos’ favorite topic is the terrible, dreadful rain. I understand! It took me years to stop doing this. But devoting negative mental energy to a weather phenomenon that you can’t change is only going to make your day worse.

4. Don’t cut out healthy habits. One thing that surprised me a lot when I moved to Seattle was that nothing in the city stops because of the weather. It is so easy to have the mindset that the rain prevents us from doing certain activities such as working out.

Be intentional about not doing that. Diet and exercise can be crucial to combating seasonal depression, so don’t give up on exercising, portion control and trying to eat nutritious foods when the weather changes. You may need to change your routines a bit, but keeping your body balanced is important to prevent the winter blues.

5. If you believe you may have seasonal depression or anxiety symptoms, seek out resources and get support from Counseling and Psychological Services and the RISE Center.

6. Turn your face toward the rain. One of my favorite college memories was going on an evening walk with my friends and getting blindsided by some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen.

We were soaked in seconds, but we still covered our heads with our jackets and ran to escape the rain. Eventually, we let go and started dancing and singing Adele songs in the street. I felt incredibly happy, free and grateful for the moment.

Don’t let your life stop just because it’s raining. Keep on making memories!

7. Don’t forget that the weather is temporary. Despite your best efforts, you may still find yourself stuck in seasonal depression. In that case, tell yourself that the season – the clouds, cold and rain – is temporary.

The sun will come back again. When it does, even if it just peeks through the clouds for a few seconds, take a moment to be grateful for it.

These are just a few strategies you could try to ease winter blues and experience a happier, more fulfilling winter quarter.

Devoting a little extra time and energy to prepare for winter and take care of yourself will make the colder months go by much quicker. Trust me!

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