Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, UofI

How to Malaysian at the UofI #2: Dealing with SAD

Oh, I remember the (literal) dark days: fourteen hours of night, sub-zero temperatures, and consuming an entire bag of Cracker Jack on the dorm linoleum floor while sobbing piteously at the visual masterpiece that is Kimi no Na Wa. Every day I’d trudge to work at the bookstore in the morning, visit the gym for a little, cook tomorrow’s dinner after my bath, then watch some Netflix or Hulu. On the weekends, I’d go over to my friends’ place and cook a little more, maybe watch a movie. I seemed to be running on fine – or was I?

A heaviness seemed to have taken up residence in the recesses of my chest. I felt disinterested and disillusioned most of the time. I began wondering what my purpose in life was. I questioned the reason for my existence and started having some pretty dark thoughts (that I won’t disclose here for reasons that I won’t disclose here). Back then I didn’t realize I was suffering from a mild case of winter depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD (very aptly named, by the way) is a psychological condition that affects people who exhibit normal mental behavior throughout most of the year. Scientists at the NHS have drawn hypotheses that suggest that the lower levels of sunlight during winter disrupt the production levels of melatonin and serotonin, leading to lethargy and a general feeling of discontent and frustration. The longer nighttime hours may also cause the body’s circadian rhythm to go out of whack. Other symptoms include:

  • Craving carbohydrates
  • A persistent low mood
  • Low self-esteem
  • A loss of interest/pleasure in daily activities
  • Difficulty in waking up/falling asleep
  • Gaining weight

Out of the six symptoms I listed above, five happened to me. There are ways to deal with it though. Human-to-human interaction helps greatly, as working at the bookstore raised my morale during the day. Working out also does a great deal for your serotonin levels. If you’re not a gym sort of person, find some time to bundle up and take a lunchtime walk. Sunlight does wonders. Try to keep to a healthy balanced diet, and use cooking as an excuse to occupy your time.

For my fellow Malaysian students (and international students), the university campus typically gets very quiet during the winter break, so find opportunities to work part-time, or plan a trip out-of-state with friends, or take up winter courses. If you aren’t able to do that, stay over with your friends on campus, and spend more time with them. Call up your family and friends when you need someone to talk to. Try to avoid looking at Instagram pictures of your other friends enjoying themselves in sunnier states. If that is not humanly possible (blame the ubiquitous nature of social media), by all means look, but do your best not to fall into despair comparing your winter break with others’. Distract yourself with reading, or cooking, or apartment redecorating.

It gets pretty rough for people used to tropical climates here in Illinois, especially first-timers. Educate yourself and prepare for the possibility of winter depression. It’s real yo.

Bloody hell. What kind of ending is that? Anyways, you can find more on the symptoms and treatment for SAD on the NHS website.



A girl. Quasi-grownup. Unaware of the full connotations of the word "adulthood".

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