The northwest has less sunshine than most places, and this has some serious effects on its residents. One of the more common results of the reduced sunlight is a seasonal depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, that tends to strike PNW residents between the months of November and February. The daylight hours in Seattle will reach a yearly low of 8 hours and 27 minutes on the winter solstice. Even when the sun attempts to grace our skies, there are often dark clouds blocking us from seeing it. This disorder’s severity ranges from mild, to downright debilitating.
According to Merriam-Webster, Seasonal Affective Disorder is defined as a type of seasonal depression associated with decreased sunlight. The page elaborated further saying, “some researchers describe it as a ‘hibernation reaction’ in which sensitive individuals react to the decreasing amounts of light and the colder temperatures of fall and winter.”
So, if you find yourself prone to hibernation like a bear, you are likely feeling the effects of SAD. Thankfully, when the winter passes, the region will have 8 months where this is not a typical problem. Before that, it is about to enter the four-month period where this becomes a common issue in the PNW every year.
Fortunately, there are scientifically proven methods to help with SAD. The most common solution is a therapy lamp. These are small lamps which typically shine 10,000 lux of full spectrum light (which equates to 20 times the strength of standard lights) and act as a stand in for the sun as far as biology is concerned. Studies have shown that these lamps are effective at preventing symptoms. These lamps are also available as alarm-clock-compatible lights that simulate daylight in your bedroom and help your body wake up refreshed even before the real sun has risen. It is recommended that they be used for 20 to 60 minutes daily.
The second most common form of treatment is medication, but many people are hesitant to use drugs that alter brain chemistry and may have unknown side effects. The most commonly prescribed drug is SSRI or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRI’s are one of the most effective drugs for treating depression but are famous for their long transition periods to cycle on or off, as well as their adverse effects on libido, sleep and mood.
While doctors often prescribe SSRI or other types of antidepressants, another common pill that people reach for are Vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is produced by the human body as a result of sunlight exposure and some people believe that a Vitamin D deficiency is the culprit behind SAD.
The final way that people can fight Seasonal Affective Disorder is by resisting that urge to sleep and eat, by instead increasing physical activity. Despite the cold and rainy weather, there are still a great number of ways to get active in the PNW. People have found relief in a variety of ways. These include going to gyms, taking up sports, pursuing hobbies and even putting on raincoats to venture outside to pursue outdoor activities just as they would when the weather is nice.
Not to be discounted either is the fact that SAD season happens to coincide with the ski season, so there’s another reason to get active to combat the condition. Snoqualmie pass is only a 45-minute drive from BC’s campus and has passes discounted by $180 for college students.