Shorter days can lead to seasonal disorder

December 4, 2014 Latest Print Print

This time of year, many people start to feel like something isn’t quite right in their lives. Those folks could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, said Student Support Services Counselor Jenna Howard.

SAD is a depressive/bipolar disorder which is common in the fall and winter time, Howard said.

“[Some] people have symptoms of depression during those times of the year,” she said.

According to, the disorder is most common in women and in people who live far from the equator where winter daylight is very short.

Howard said the disorder could be triggered by a number of things — from lack of sleep to Vitamin D deficiencies.

“Sometimes [researchers] believe it can be changes in your hormones, so something is going on chemically,” she said. “[Other research suggests] that light therapy is helpful.”

Howard said light therapy is believed to help create vitamin D, something many people may be deficient in during the winter months when the days are shorter.

According to, a lack of sunlight can upset a person’s biological clock, which controls the sleep-wake pattern and other circadian rhythms, as well as cause problems with the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood.

Howard said other remedies include cognitive therapy and counseling.

“We know when we feel depressed, people are usually thinking negative thoughts about themselves and about their lives.

“So if you can do cognitive therapy, you can kind of change the way you think about some things in your life, or even change behaviors,” she said.

When people are depressed, she said, they tend to isolate themselves, so a change in behavior could lead to getting out more and doing different things.

“Maybe … opening your windows or going outside, or just not being by yourself [could help],” Howard said.

“We know exercise helps with our hormones and helps us feel better.”

Along with a lack of vitamins and not getting enough sleep, Howard said, students also could experience SAD from the stress of end-of-semester tests and holiday expectations.

“[During the] holidays, people are dealing with family and relationships, or maybe loss,” she said.

“There are expectations or hopes and maybe grief from the past.”

Howard said OCCC’s Student Support Services, TRiO and Student Life sponsored a Student Stress Free Experience  on Dec. 3.

“One of the reasons we started the stress-free experience in the winter is because we wanted to help students with depression,” she said.

The stress-free experience will include auditory relaxation and deep breathing, mental relaxation, wellness screening, art therapy, chair massages, a comfort dog and chocolate, Howard said.

According to the flyer, the event offers “seven different ways to relax using our different senses.”

Howard said students who notice feelings of depression in the fall or winter should talk to the counselors in Student Support Services located on the first floor of the Main Building.

She said counselors there can help diagnose the problem and help guide students to the next step in the process.

For more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder, visit

For information on counseling available at OCCC, visit the Student Support Services located in the Main Building by Student Life, or call 405-682-7520, or email Jenna Howard at

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