Seasonal Affective Disorder in Eugene

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Light therapy can help combat SAD.
Sunny October weather in the Willamette Valley.

Though Eugene has been marvelously scenic these past couple of weeks, it’s sure to return to its usual downpours by the end of the Fall.

Our blue skies will turn to gray, our sunglasses will be replaced by umbrellas, and Eugenians will once again return to their old, weather weary selves.

While many people from the Northwest are able to find beauty in the regions seemingly bleak climate, others suffer from seasonal depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is a specific kind of depression and is especially prevalent in northern states, where winters are darker than other regions of the United States.

SAD is most commonly experienced by people in their twenties and thirties, which means students at the University of Oregon (particularly those who come from sunnier climates) are more likely to suffer from depression. Also, women have been shown to be more susceptible to SAD than men.

eugene rain
What Lane County usually looks like. (image eugenebicyclist.com)

A few symptoms of the mood disorder are weight gain, daytime fatigue, social withdrawal, increased irritability and anxiety. Other symptoms/results of Seasonal Affective Disorder are  feeling sad, loss of interest in normal pleasures, lack of initiative, and possible other symptoms of biological dysregulation like difficulty or excessive sleeping.

With an ever-increasing population, it is important that the city of Eugene becomes aware of both the symptoms and remedies regarding Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Here are a few simple steps that can help you cope with Oregon’s drastic weather.

First of all, many seem to be under the impression that any mental disorder can be easily solved with a doctor’s note and a plethora of pills. This is false. In fact, anti-depressants do little to solve the problem while also coming with a series of unwanted side effects.

University of Oregon psychology professor Don Tucker believes there are alternatives to prescription drugs when dealing with SAD.

“Drugs (like) Prozac are often effective in treating depression, but their long term effectiveness is often disappointing,” said Professor Tucker.

Dr. Tucker is interested in how cognition is regulated by emotional arousal. His research uses methods of cognitive psychology to assess the influence of specific forms of emotional arousal, such as anxiety and depression.

“SAD is a way that depression happens,” explains Tucker. “…so even though there are specific treatments, like strong light early in the morning, the best treatments would be those for depression generally. Changes in thinking and lifestyle, particularly with carefully structured cognitive therapy, or meditation, and improved exercise have been shown to have good long term effects for depression.”

wine
Less alcohol rather than more can help combat SAD, but meeting new people can be very effective.

There are many options available for people who are dealing with SAD, including but not limited to: light therapy, yoga, running, drinking less alcoholic beverages, and seeking professional help. However, simple things like improved exercise, diet and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule can do wonders for your body and mind. Taking a vacation to a warm and sunny destination can provide you with just the right kick start for the Fall.

Of course, not all of us can spare the time or money for a cross country trip.

For those whose budgets may be constrained during this time of the year, Dr. Tucker suggests an even simpler remedy.

“If you’re feeling down as the days start getting darker, I would recommend getting light early in the morning,” said Tucker. “Daylight is much stronger than any artificial light, so even if it seems gloomy outside, spend some time outside in the AM. Go for a run or a bike ride in the morning.”

One of the most common and effective methods of dealing with depression is meeting new people.

Closing yourself off from the world can send you into a downward spiral. It’s important to establish a social life, and in the same vein, to maintain your existing relationships with family and friends.

The winter blues are real and they can be devastating, so try to find the brighter side of Eugene.

To learn more about the psychology program at the University of Oregon or to find out more information about Seasonal Affective Disorder and Professor Don Tucker, visit http://psychweb.uoregon.edu/people/tucker-don

Adam Chimeo recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a B.A. in Cinema Studies. He enjoys writing and live music.

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