March 29, 2011

SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder

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On Feb. 2, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow. To optimistic believers, this meant that spring, and, with it, warmth, would be right around the corner. Judging by this week’s high of 41 degrees (coupled with snowfall to end the month of March), those of us in Ithaca learned long ago not to be so trusting of Phil’s predictions.

As incoming freshmen, we had heard of Ithaca’s infamous four seasons: rain, snow, hail and sleet. What we did not realize, however, was that it was more or less true for every month, with the exclusion of the May to August period. Returning this week for the remainder of the “spring semester,” this truth seems especially disconcerting, particularly for those who were able to venture off to warmer places for break. For this reason, everyone at Cornell seems to experience some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder. In very simple, non-medical terms, SAD is a condition in which individuals experience mild symptoms of depression during the colder, darker seasons of the year. While SAD was once not recognized by medical and psychological professionals, any Psych 101 student can tell you that it is now considered a diagnosable condition, and there are even marketed solutions to treat it. A cursory Google search for “happy lamp” reveals an apparent widespread demand for such a product. There are varying technologies, brands and price ranges for these sunlight simulators, all of which are designed to combat low moods, irritability, fatigue and other symptoms of “Winter SAD.”

Without belittling the seriousness of real SAD (on which we don’t claim to be experts), it seems to us that all Cornell students experience a very unique type of the condition, one that is only evident with hindsight. Cornell’s distinct weather pattern causes a greater appreciation for those days when we can put away our boots and gloves. On afternoons when the sun is shining with clear skies and no (!) precipitation, students realize how much happier they suddenly are … when the weather has hit above 45 degrees.

For our friends at schools in the South, or even just outside of the Fingerlakes region, a slight temperature drop in October feels like the first blast of winter. Not for us; we’ve literally become numb to the change. There is barely a difference between 25 and 45 degrees anymore, and anything above hardly warrants a parka. 55 and sunny, even with snow still on the ground, means Frisbee games on the Arts Quad, and shorts and flip-flops aren’t out of the question. For students at UMiami on the other hand, this weather is the very reason they own Uggs.

However, as much as we love to complain when the Ithacating commences, we all knew what we were getting ourselves into. But for some prospective students, knowledge of Ithaca’s blisteringly cold and dreary winters was reason enough to not even consider Cornell. Barring the University’s academic reputation, and the fact that some will hold fast to the argument that “the weather helps you stay in to study,” the University could alleviate concerns by sponsoring events to take advantage of the precious days of warm weather that we do have (other than Slope Day) and by being more sensitive on the days that SAD students need it most (such as snow days that extend beyond the 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. timeframe). For example, the University could be more tolerant when Cornell students decide to embrace the cold with a campus-wide snowball fight.

Though we can’t offer up a panacea for those days when it’s a struggle to get out of bed, we encourage you to revel in the ridiculousness that only Ithaca’s weather can offer. Because no matter how many times we refresh Weather.com, we’re still shocked every time. It should now come as no surprise when it is sunny when you get to class, but you walk out 50 minutes later to a blizzard, or when you see someone cross-country skiing on Tower Road. It’s no happy lamp, but at least you know it’s not just you. Cornell’s very own breed of SAD, if nothing else, means that at the end of March, we can (hopefully) look forward to a positive mood swing, increased energy and a more optimistic outlook. … Unless Ithaca gives us its very own April Fools trick on Friday, and sledding enthusiasts get one last day of glory.

Jane Mermel is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at jmermel@cornellsun.com. Hilary Oran is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She may be reached at horan@cornellsun.com. The Shorthand appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Hilary Oran