When the jingle bells stop ringing and the candy wrappers of questionable Christmas chocolates begin to instil feelings of guilt, then you know it’s mid-January. It’s one of the saddest times of the year, and one of the principal times in which many students develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). Just like we had been so excited for Winter break, that walk of calendar shame back to Brock for the Winter semester can inspire sadness. Here is some advice as to how a student can overcome the winter blues with your mental health in tact.
A holistically balanced life
I am no stranger to depression and anxiety after having fought against them since I was 12-years-old. Throughout the winter season, things tend to get worse. Thankfully, over the years, I’ve developed different strategies by which to combat S.A.D., with each contributing to a holistically balanced lifestyle. Between trying to get regular exercise, eating well, taking Vitamin D supplements, meditation and yoga, I’ve found that the most effective way to ensure an upbeat mood is to surround myself with people and consciously trying to get myself out of the house to spend time with friends. In the winter, it’s easy to stay cooped up indoors with the weather being less than desirable. Even more so, it’s easy to stray away from things that you used to find fun and exciting. However, it’s important to realize how our strong relationships with other people can significantly change our mood and behaviour. It’s true what they say – happiness is contagious – and being surrounded by positive energies is one of the key ways to kick SAD to the curb. Whether that means going for a brisk walk together when it’s not unbearably cold outside, stopping at a coffee shop or hanging out in Isaac’s Bar & Grill, the company of others will surely put those sad feelings at ease.
With these friends, it can be comforting to simply talk about how you are feeling, but if this is awkward for some, Brock offers a terrific personal counselling program that is available to students at no charge. Having visited their office several times during my undergrad, they truly take the time to ensure that you feel comfortable and safe, as well as always keeping your best interest in mind.
Sports raise spirits
Coming back from the holiday break can always be a stressful, depressing time of the year. It’s freezing cold outside, school is starting back up again, and for someone like myself, living in St. Catharines means being away from home, my friends and my family. Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU) has tried to help students get through these depressing days by hosting the annual Frost Week. This allows students to be able to come back from the holidays, go out and be social, and ease their way back into the potentially harsh routine of school.
As a die hard sports fan, this can be one of the best times of the year to watch, and follow sports. The NFL playoffs are on, it’s the stretch drive in the NHL, and NBA season, Brock sports are coming down to the wire if you’re a collegiate fan, and believe it or not, baseball is right around the corner. Going skating, skiing, watching a movie, or even just sitting with friends as you stay warm by a fire; these are all fun things that you can be doing at this time of the year to help alleviate your stress and enjoy some leisure.
Light therapy: it really works
For the longest time as a child, I used to always wonder why I would feel so upset each winter. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had a serious problem with seasonal depression that translated into getting in significantly more trouble at school and at home. I remember I used to call December my “unlucky” month, because I would always get in so much trouble that Christmas was always ruined. Looking back, I can’t believe I never made the connection that the cold and lack of sunlight was just making me crazy. It was not until much later in life, that I realized that I had a legitimate medical condition; one that I desperately needed a solution for. It was out of this search that I discovered the magic of light therapy. In fact, according to Dr. Rosenthal, a leading expert on S.A.D, upwards of 60 to 80 per cent of those affected by S.A.D can benefit from light therapy. By simply purchasing a one-foot LED light, and using it to light an area in which you study, read, or watch TV, you can dramatically reduce seasonal depression in as little as half an hour. While there is no magical fix for everyone for S.A.D, I would highly recommend using light therapy to brighten up your day.
Try to walk it off
University is no walk in the park, but that’s not to say that taking one won’t ease the struggle. I find going into second semester following a lengthy winter break to be difficult than first semester.
After spending time with friends and family, and being able to relax, motivation can be hard to come by, which ultimately leads to assignments piling up along with more stress. The less than pleasant weather that accompanies January and February certainly doesn’t help an already gloomy state of mind. With the importance of mental health being discussed more frequently in universities, we have more access to programs and ways to alleviate the stresses that come along with the winter blues and what seems like an endless amount of assignments.
One of these ways that is often overlooked when dealing with stress is just taking a simple walk. This is a method of dealing with stress that I fully believe in and practice often. While it may be cold outside, there are plenty of beautiful winter days that are perfect for walking as long as you dress accordingly. In Port Colborne, I’m lucky enough to live right by the lake which makes for a perfect scenic winter stroll. There are plenty of places in St. Catharines to explore on foot when you’re feeling bogged down by the weather and everything else. If the only time you’ve made it downtown is for after dark festivities, I would highly recommend you bus there during the afternoon just to walk and see the little shops and restaurants your city has to offer. A walk up or down the escarpment is also stunning any time of the year. It’s just a matter of getting out there and taking things in that you’ve been ignoring.
That’s what’s so therapeutic about walking. Not only is it a way to stay physical, but rather than running, biking, etc., walking allows you to take yourself away from your stresses and slowly take in sights and sounds. A crisp winter walk might be exactly what you need to wake your brain up from the winter blues and studying. My suggestion is that when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, put on the winter boots and attire, leave the phone at home, and take a quick twenty minute walk to refresh your mind.
The pleasures of work
American author and new age spiritualist Gary Zukav once said, “We cannot stop the winter or the summer from coming. We cannot stop the spring or the fall or make them other than they are. They are gifts from the universe that we cannot refuse. But we can choose what we will contribute to life when each arrives.” I’m usually not the kind of person to reference new age spiritualism or anything of the sort for consolation and personal encouragement, but the words put into context rather neatly how I think about our long and cold winter months.
We’re told these winter months are the worst for many people falling victim to depression, unhappiness, sadness and stress. While I’m no expert on these conditions or what causes them, I do sometimes feel myself at my wit’s edges as the world outside becomes so sombre and cold.
But such feelings can be easily avoided if you can stay busy. I don’t want to offer false consolations or a false hope, which is the worst advice. Sometimes such feelings are unavoidable and the winter months for whatever reasons only makes it worst or at least exacerbates it to the point one needs help.
However, I find the greatest medicine for the frost is work – but work you take pleasure
in. I feel I cannot stress this enough because everyone immediately descends upon you as if you really were the devil in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons but rather than cozying up in bed, watching movies, browsing the internet and playing video games, wasting your precious time, in other words, give yourself a project to do.
At least you’ll feel damn good about yourself when you finish it and start looking forward
for something better to accomplish, regardless of the temperature outside.
Beating the S.A.D.ness
Gas stations are empty, outlet malls are empty, parks are empty, the movies are empty. Yes, it’s cold outside. It only takes a walk through Brock’s Thistle entrance to see the students huddled together for warmth waiting for the bus to understand just how cold it is.
Winter is not the end-all, people. It is merely an obstacle, one which you can overcome through proper planning. Not in the sense of planning to go away to the Bahamas. But instead, planning to dress warmly enough to be able to go out and enjoy everything that the colder months have to offer. Everyone’s inside rampantly running through the data usage on their internet packages… so why not take command of the empty world around you? Planning doesn’t end in just putting on your puffiest pair of snow pants and your mother’s poorly-knit scarf, however. You can plan to boost your serotonin levels (which are enzymes used in the neural pleasure pathway for your brain) by eating simple carbohydrates, or citrus fruits.
Based on the distance from holidays, the cold weather and being the last full week in January, the saddest day of the year falls on Monday, Jan. 26. That being said, there’s no reason you can’t preplan and prepare to be happy. After all, your emotions don’t have to depend on a calendar date.
Bring in a pack of Timbits for your Monday seminar, buy someone’s hot tea for them at the Thistle Tim Hortons, leave a post-it note with an encouraging message on it in the washroom, there are infinite ways that this sad time can be overcome with generosity, joy and happiness.
I could tell you just to splurge on groceries and buy a disgusting amount of chocolate to beat the year’s saddest day, but that’s a superfluous response. Instead, it will be far more effective to simply try and make someone else’s day brighter, which I guarantee will have the same positive effect on your day.