The cold weather and shorter days during winter months can leave even the best of us feeling tired, cranky and unmotivated. With that in mind, students, faculty and staff at Washington State University Pullman have been working on a variety of ways to improve mood and mental health.

Many people are familiar with what is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is related to seasonal change. The Mayo Clinic warns that symptoms can start out mild and become more severe as the winter season progresses.

“Even if one does not have full-blown SAD, the shorter days can have a noticeable effect on mood, energy, and motivation,” said Ellen Taylor, associate vice president for Student Engagement. “Our students have expressed that this is a concern of theirs, so we want to address this aspect of student mental health this year.”

Working the mind, body and soul

The Division of Students Affairs, working with the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), have planned two days of workshops this week that will get the WSU community moving and reenergized, as well as encourage you to focus on self-care through mindfulness and creative expression.

Beginning tomorrow, Jan. 28, at 5 p.m. in the Student Recreation Center, there are a variety of different activities to participate in from rock climbing, yard games in the pool, a fitness class, to dodgeball, painting, and enjoying mocktails and healthy snacks.

The following evening, Jan. 29, at 5 p.m., people can explore mindfulness as a technique for restful sleep, the art and craft of storytelling, and how to cook foods high in vitamin D. The evening will culminate with dinner, dessert, storytelling and stand-up comedy. All activities on Wednesday evening take place in the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center.

“We will give you tools to help you be present in the moment, calmer, less stressed, and kinder to yourself,” said Veneice Guillory-Lacy, GPSA executive vice president and member of the planning team. “With physical fitness, people tend to forget that exercise helps us feel more energetic, mentally sharp, sleep better, and makes us feel better about ourselves. It is important that you take care of yourself holistically through mind, body and soul.”

Event details, times and locations for all Winter Blues Busting activities can be found on the University Recreation website.

Try light therapy

To help deter symptoms of SAD, 14 new therapy lights are being installed across campus. Locations include the Compton Union Building (CUB), Student Recreation Center, Chinook Student Center, Terrell Library, the SPARK building, Todd Hall, and Smith Center for Undergraduate Education (CUE). Cougar Health Services has therapy lights available as well. Future locations might include dining spaces and residence halls.

The idea for purchasing and installing therapy lights came from student Melissa Torres, an at-large senator for the Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU). She helped draft and lobbied for a resolution that was recently passed by ASWSU.

“It shows how one student with an idea, who ran for senate, turned it into something that will benefit students across campus,” said Quinton Berkompas, ASWSU president. “It is the essence of why we get involved with student government.”

Light boxes simulate natural daylight and activate hormones that improve energy, mood, and sleep. They also help our internal body clocks regulate daily sleep and wake patterns. To use them effectively, people should sit 10 inches away from the light for 30 minutes, preferably in the morning or early afternoon so sleep patterns won’t be disrupted.

Same day counseling

When it comes to SAD or any mental health concern, receiving professional counseling is often a vital piece to assessing, diagnosing, and treating the symptoms. Access to mental health services is top of mind for students, faculty and staff.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) within Cougar Health Services has streamlined the process for students seeking same day counseling. Previously, students had to drop-by the clinic and wait for an available counselor. Now they can make a same-day appointment by calling CAPS as early as 7:45 a.m. This allows students to schedule a time that won’t conflict with classes or work and avoid potential wait times.

A day with Dior Vargas

Next month the WSU community will have opportunities to learn from Dior Vargas, a self-described Latina, feminist, and mental health activist. A resident of New York City, she is the creator of the People of Color and Mental Illness Photo Project, a response to the invisibility of people of color in the media representation of mental illness.

On Feb. 26, Vargas will conduct several workshops tailored for students, faculty and staff before delivering a community-wide keynote address at 7 p.m., in the CUB Senior Ballroom. Her speech, followed by a book signing, will be livestreamed. More information about the workshops and Vargas will be shared closer to the events.