How students can cope with seasonal affective disorder

By: Afton Berg

For those affected with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the winter months can be a daunting time. The long nights and cold temperatures affect many peoples’ moods and sleeping patterns, leaving them discouraged and, in some cases, depressed. 

More than 35 per cent of Canadians struggle with seasonal depression, and more than half are college students, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.  

Karen Gowryluk, a manager for the Student Counselling Services at RRC Polytech, said seasonal affective disorder is an umbrella term to explain changes in mood during the winter months. She said SAD happens when the body’s internal clock changes the chemicals in the brain. 

“Pay attention to when you start to feel low. Don’t judge yourself or others for the feelings. Just notice how you are affected,” said Gowryluk. 

Student sits in RRC Polytech stairwell./AFTON BERG

Though seasonal depression affects people of all ages, it can have a larger impact on post-secondary students because of the stresses already associated with college life, according to online medical journal Timely MD

Gowryluk recommended using a light therapy box or SAD lamp for 20 to 40 minutes a day first thing in the morning to combat seasonal depression. SAD lamps simulate sunlight, which triggers the brain to release serotonin. 

Cyndy Warkentine, a therapist in southeastern Manitoba, said going outside will also help the winter blues. 

“Going outside can help people to feel grounded and more at peace,” said Warkentine. 

RRC Polytech offers many mental health supports, such as webinars, wellness blogs, and wellness activities. These are available at Red River College Polytechnic’s Healthy Minds, Healthy College website.  Students can also email RRC Polytech Counselling at for more information.