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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
Chris Matthews: Inspiring language learners at home and abroad
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • April 22, 2024
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By Irene Castillo, Senior Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Opinion | Leave the lights on this semester and avoid an all-consuming seasonal depression

Opinion+%7C+Leave+the+lights+on+this+semester+and+avoid+an+all-consuming+seasonal+depression
Izzy Poth | Staff Illustrator

The spring semester is finally upon us, and the sun is setting at a cool 4:30 in the afternoon — for many college students, this is a recipe for spiraling into their worst mental state since last February. 

Each year, I find myself falling back into old self-destructive and depressive habits right around the end of daylight saving time, an outdated tradition the House refuses to get rid of because they like to see every American suffer. Fortunately for me, after a seven-year streak of succumbing to the winter blues, I’ve made it to January and still feel quite alright.

The secret to this is keeping your living space as well-lit as possible.

Your therapist might recommend joining a club or exercising or spending more time with your friends, and while these are all great suggestions, they’re also all very difficult to do when you can feel the winter nights gouging the energy from your body. Besides, I haven’t stepped foot in a gym for over two years now, and my muscles are hardly showing any signs of atrophy.

Leaving the lights on is an easy way to ward off the winter blues because it requires very little effort — there are no email lists, uncooperative group chats or intimidating men hanging around the light switch even though you want to use it. It’s just a simple three steps from your desk, and hey, there’s some exercise for the day.

It seems somewhat obvious to leave the lights on to make up for the debilitating lack of natural light during the day, but I never actually realized how helpful it was until this year, especially after visiting my parents over break and remembering what my winters were like in high school.

My parents seem to be under the bizarre impression that they live in a Romanesque abbey that can only be lit by candles and oil lamps, leaving our home in near total darkness once the sun sets. My schedule of getting home from high school, enjoying the sunlight for one hour and then spending seven more hours in the dark on the couch was, in hindsight, not very conducive to a healthy mental state.

Darkness is depressing. It triggers melatonin production, which makes us groggy and unmotivated. This is great if you’re trying to fall asleep, but less great when you’ve still got five hours left in your day and homework to do. When the body suddenly craves rest even when we want to be active, it makes us feel incapable and lacking, feeding into depressive thought patterns.

Light, on the other hand, is stimulating — light therapy is a very common treatment for diagnosed seasonal affective disorder. Exposure to light helps synthesize serotonin, which aids in mood stability and motivation, and suppresses melatonin. Not only will your mind be more active, but your body won’t betray you by sinking into your cushions.

A specialized light therapy lamp is certainly the most helpful, but for those of us who are hesitant to blow $100 on a swanky lightbulb, simply keeping your house lights on is the next best thing. While it might mess with the feng shui of your apartment, higher-temperature blue light is best to stimulate serotonin production.

Of course, if you’re already a burnt-out STEM student and the last thing you need is more science in your life, you can also approach it less cerebrally and consider your own personal relationship to light. I’ve had my fair share of breakdowns, and the lighting ultimately made the difference between a quick power cry and an eight-hour workday worth of sobbing.

A dark room suffocates the person living in it. It drives you to feel like clawing your own eyes out might be the only way to stop crying because the notion of pushing through that black blanket pervading your room seems an impossible task. You’re hopelessly glued to your bed, and yet in some ways you find comfort in the fact that it would be so difficult to get up. 

I often found the most safety when I was at my lowest on a lonely winter night. My mind felt like it was melting inside my skull, but it felt so good to rot because I couldn’t possibly expect myself to overcome the leviathan of a lightless bedroom. It wasn’t my fault I was drowning — I was swimming in tar.

But when the lights came on, it was easier to realize I wasn’t as trapped as I thought. In the light, you can see your room and your decorations, and slowly the world becomes less scary and more approachable. The world isn’t ending — in fact, it’s just as mundane as it was a few days ago when you were feeling alright.

Keeping your room lit will help prevent that descent into a depression that holds you hostage by making you feel safe in your misery. When the lights are off and your room becomes a cave, it’s easy to believe in the shadows your brain casts on the wall. Don’t let the winter blues make you a prisoner to the dark.

Thomas Riley really hopes this column still holds up in February. Wish them luck at [email protected] 

About the Contributor
Thomas Riley, Opinions Editor
Thomas Riley is a junior double major in Politics and Philosophy and English Writing. They enjoy all things comedy and love to satirize current events and student life in their own writing. You can catch them procrastinating in Hillman, reading in Cathy or dreading a required economics course in Lawrence. Share your own opinions or sell them CDs by emailing