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The Mass Media

Advice with the Arts Editor: Combatting seasonal depression

According to the calendar, fall started on Sept. 23, but with the warm weather that has been passing through, it doesn’t feel like fall is here. Personally, this lingering warm weather has delayed the inevitable sadness that comes with cold weather. 

In the last week or so, as the fall weather has crept up on us, the motivation seeped from my limbs as I laid in my bed for hours on end. Homework is piling up in my email inbox as deadlines approach. Last year I promised myself that I wouldn’t succumb to seasonal depression, yet here it is looming over me once again.

I love cooking, but it now requires too much energy. I have stacks upon stacks of books to read on my desk, but I can’t focus on them. I’m closed off from my friends, and I don’t want to talk to my family. I love meeting new people, but I can’t find anything to talk about. I love learning and my classes, but the work is too draining. 

How exactly do I fight this? I’m beginning to see the warning signs of sliding back down this slippery slope, but how do I prevent it? This is the question I presented to my therapist the other day. I felt defeated, like all this progress I made was for nothing. I had made up my mind: This is how my season was going to go. 

“It hasn’t happened yet. How do you know it will go like this?” She said to me. Well, clearly she doesn’t understand, I thought. Of course it will go this way. It’s happened every year for the past seven years. What makes this one different?

She then explained to me that I was experiencing learned helplessness. I had first heard this term in AP Psychology in high school, but had forgotten its meaning since then. She explained to me that there was a study done where they would shock dogs and give them nowhere to escape. After doing this several times, they did give them somewhere to escape to, but it didn’t change their fate. They still stayed in the spot that shocked them. 

With a second group, they gave the dogs an escape right away, and the dogs escaped from the shock as soon as they experienced it. The difference was that the first group learned that they had no choice but to experience the shock, while the second group was given a choice right away.

“You have a choice in how your season will go,” my therapist explained to me. Everything I was doing was a choice I was making. I was choosing not to go to class, which in turn made me feel bad about myself. I was choosing to spend time scrolling through social media, when I could have been doing my school work. 

In both cases, I felt stuck because in the past, I hadn’t done well, so I skipped class and didn’t do my work because in my head, I wouldn’t have succeeded in school either way. This clearly isn’t true, because it was those actions that were causing my decline in school, not the other way around. But because I had learned that this time of year brought declining grades, I had made a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

To break the cycle, I had to make choice after choice that pointed me in the right direction. This is hard, and it takes work to undo the years of learned helplessness, but it’s not impossible like I had thought. This gave me a glimmer of hope I hadn’t experienced in years.

Now, I make my life a sort of experience. I light all the candles in my room. I put on my favorite music. I get myself a fun drink from Starbucks or cinnamon tea from my kitchen. I’m relearning what this time of year means. I try to make myself excited to sit down and do my school work. Reading becomes exciting again, and cooking becomes fun.

Cold weather doesn’t have to bring declining grades and social life. It can mean something completely different. While this is working right now, it might not work later in the season, so I have set up support for myself while I feel up to it. I talked to the Ross Center to help me stay on top of my work. I talked to my boyfriend about what I might experience so he knows what to say that will motivate me during this time. 

This might not completely work, but I’m making an effort. I am actively working to change what I thought was impossible for so long.

About the Contributor
Rena Weafer, Arts Editor