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By: Kiersten McDonald

Winter is here and the slump is real. Research shows that winter months can take a massive toll on our moods. The start of college can be a daunting, life-altering adjustment that leaves freshmen vulnerable to a winter crash. Here are seven tips and tricks on how to combat those dreadful winter blues:

  1. Exercise

Exercise is a sure-fire way to boost your mood. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with an exercise routine when you’re in school juggling the demands of academic work, extra-curricular activities and a job all at once. You should “pencil in” particular times during the week for exercise. Making it a part of your schedule helps you remember the importance to stick to your health commitment. Health is extremely important and should not fall through the cracks because of other responsibilities. Something as simple as walking to your class on the other side of campus, instead of taking the shuttle bus, can brighten your day.

  1. Go Outside (even when it’s cold!)

One of the major contributors to winter blues is lack of sunlight. You can combat the depressive effects of winter by going outside, despite the chilly temps. The benefits of an outdoor walk or run are endless and outweigh the drawback of having to bundle up. The sun does some pretty amazing things for our body like helping the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that boosts mood and energy levels. The more sun exposure we have, the more our bodies produce serotonin. When serotonin levels in our body are high, we are happier. Vigorous exercise also releases endorphins, which create a sense of euphoria. These feel-good neurotransmitters can create what’s called a “runner’s high.” Regular exercise promotes health, increases confidence and boosts your overall mood. This mini biology recap lesson screams that our poor winter souls need sun and exercise – STAT.

  1. Be Social

I think we can all agree that staying in bed and watching Netflix all day is extremely tempting during the wintertime. Who doesn’t want to stay under the covers when it’s gross and gloomy outside? This urge, however, becomes problematic when Netflix starts to consume an extremely large portion of our waking hours. Routinely binge-watching shows can negatively impact one’s mental health. This is why it is so important to stay social. Socializing boosts energy and mood regardless of whether you are an introvert or extrovert. Friends give us a sense of belonging and help us navigate stress. Connect with positive people who can bring some laughter and joy into your life. On-campus activities and clubs can help you find your niche. Positive socialization helps ward off those dreadful blues.

  1. Try New Things

There comes a point in the winter, where you need to accept that summer is far-gone and spring is off in the distance. When you get to that point, it is important to embrace the [ugly] beast of winter; because hey, winter doesn’t get enough credit! There are tons of activities that can help break up the cold weather monotony.

Winter activities such as skiing, tubing or sledding are great sources of exercise and fun. If you don’t have the access or resources to do these activities, many metropolitan areas have free museums and indoor sights to explore. Also, look out for what your campus has to offer in the winter; schools typically organize free or low cost activities as well as off-campus trips. Winter is a great time to travel to new places; whether it’s in between semesters or over a long weekend, explore indoor and outdoor attractions to combat that cooped-up winter feeling. Blues are perpetuated by boredom, so be sure to change up your routine and try new things whenever you can.

5. Sleep, sleep and sleep. Oh…did I mention sleep?

It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Often, we forget about the importance of self-care. Getting plenty of rest greatly impacts physical wellbeing and mental health. College students typically struggle with a healthy sleeping schedule. “All nighters” or sleeping far into the afternoon on weekends can wreck havoc on our bodies. In order to feel energized throughout the day, a set-sleeping schedule is vital. Falling asleep and waking up around the same time each day helps your body regulate itself.  Make sure your dorm has heat pump systems so you will stay warm indoors. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, makes it difficult to manage stress, mood and energy. Perhaps my favorite fun-fact about sleep is that it dramatically helps your memory function well. Lack of sleep has detrimental effects on your memory. Yes, cramming and pulling all nighters probably have the opposite impact that you intend. (TIP: if you’re looking to ace that exam, study hard but also get your rest!)

6. Food is fuel (and so is water)

An important aspect of self-care is eating healthy and limiting caffeine. Holiday treats and the stress of finals can add up quickly. Unfortunately, college and stress eating go hand-in-hand. The dining hall or your dorm room stash of junk food can take you down a slippery slope of neglecting your body’s nutritional needs. To combat this, remain active and focus on eating foods that will fuel your body. Healthy fruits, veggies and sources of protein will give your body a boost in energy and mood. To compliment these efforts, check out what your school has to offer as far as workout classes!

7. Give Yourself a Break

Perhaps the most important skill to acquire with age is learning how to relax and truly decompress. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, including my own, our bodies cannot endlessly run on Dunkin’. We all need time to unwind. What makes us feel relaxed is subjective, but reading or meditating are some great starting points. Sometimes we need that bowl of ice cream or afternoon of Netflix, so treat yourself in moderation.

Amidst the various therapeutic approaches available, cognitive analytic therapy stands out for its unique methodology that combines elements from different schools of psychotherapy to offer a comprehensive treatment model. This approach facilitates a deeper understanding of one’s mental patterns and the external factors that influence them, encouraging a proactive stance towards mental health. With the guidance of a skilled therapist, patients can navigate their way through the complexities of their psychological landscapes towards a healthier mindset. For further details, visit Augmentive.io.

8. Soak Up The Sun (even if you’re inside)

Let’s say midterms are coming up and you are feeling swamped. You simply don’t have time to schedule in regular exercise, outdoor time or new adventures with your friends. Fear not, because the mood boosting effects of sunlight can still be experienced when you are inside. Always open the blinds in your dorm, apartment or home right when you wake up. This keeps your body’s circadian rhythm on track, boosting your energy levels and mood. Set up shop next to a window in the library or place your desk next to a window in your dorm. Natural light is a key component in fighting against the winter slump.

#BEATTHEBLUES

These eight tips are just some of the many ways you and I can beat the blues. It is important to understand the difference between occasionally feeling down and the symptoms of depression. Contact your health care provider or a mental health professional if you have any questions or concerns.

 

 

Going off to college brings with it an obvious amount of newfound freedom including the sudden ability to eat whatever it is you want and buy whatever it is you want, which means that suddenly all of that junk food that you were most likely forced to eat in moderation back at home becomes readily available 24/7. And, unless you are a college athlete with a consistent workout schedule, sometimes it can be hard to create an exercise routine. What is even harder: staying motivated to eat right and exercise.

 

The “Freshman 15” is a term that a majority of universities and colleges refer to as the general weight that college freshmen will gain during their first year of college when healthy diet and regular exercise are thrown out the window in favor of the not-so-healthy alternatives. Luckily, according to several different resources including studies by Cornell University and the University of Guelph as cited in The Freshman Survival Guide, the Freshman 15 is different for everybody. Some may only gain a few pounds; others maybe will gain more than fifteen. You may even be like me during my freshman year and actually lose weight! The point is everyone’s body is different, so adjusting to the college lifestyle will take a toll on everyone’s body differently too. Nevertheless, here are some universal tips and tricks when it comes to staying healthy throughout your college experience regardless if you are a health nut or a Red Bull junkie.

 

Eat Right

Eating right can be difficult in college, especially when everyone’s favorite college delicacy, Top Ramen, is 58 cents per pack while buying the healthier food options seems to add up to more than your college tuition. And The Freshman Survival Guide said it best when they stated that “dining-hall eating is more like eating at a restaurant (not always a five-star) for almost every meal.” Fortunately, there are easy ways to make slight adjustments to your eating habits that make for overall healthier results.

 

  • Eat three meals a day! It may be hard to eat breakfast when you are rushing out of your dorm to get to your 8am class, but grabbing a granola bar, piece of fruit, or even dry cereal helps you from overeating during later meals and also provides brain food during those early mornings before lunchtime.
  • Snacking can help to keep your appetite in check! This one comes with an asterisk- by snacking I don’t mean an entire bag of Doritos between lunch and dinner. Snacking moderately on something light and healthy actually helps keep you going during the day and lowers your appetite with those bigger meals. Personally, I have a bag of trail-mix for such a purpose. A handful here and there between my meals does wonders. Other snack ideas may be yogurt, pre-cut fruit, or string cheese.
  • Balance Your Food Groups! We aren’t saying to never indulge in those 3 slices of pizza on a Friday night when kicking back with your buddies. Just don’t eat it every day. And when eating at the dining halls, try your best to get a good balance of dairy, grains, fruit, vegetables, and protein. Don’t go for the cheeseburger & fries every single meal.  A salad never hurt anybody.
  • Some colleges provide special kitchenette areas in the common areas of their dorms, or have apartment style Housing with a full kitchen available for cooking. A quick Google search will find you easy college recipes that will not break the bank. A common website frequented by myself and one I share with my residents at the beginning of the school year is www.supercook.com. It allows you to enter in the ingredients you have, and pops out a meal you can make using those ingredients. Pretty nifty!

 

Exercise

Staying active while in college is very important. Regular exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but also increases mental alertness in class, clears your head, keeps stress at bay, and helps you sleep better every night. Personally, I treat exercising and going to the gym like an additional class that I cannot skip, and I almost always work out with a friend in order to keep my motivation high. Most colleges offer a free or discounted gym membership with tuition, so take full advantage of it! But, if the gym isn’t exactly your scene, there are still some other strategies to staying active:

 

  • Walk or bike to class! Depending on your class schedule and size of your campus, this could easily add anywhere from 20-60 minutes of exercising every single day! Also, take the stairs in your dormitory instead of the elevator when going back to your room.
  • Join a fitness class or an intermural sports program. These are generally always free with tuition as well and are fun ways to get exercise with friends!
  • Some people may enjoy doing workouts in the comfort of their own dorm, which is perfectly all right too! An awesome website I share with my residents is www.gainfitness.com/strength. It allows you to set how long you want to work out, the type of work out, and set a fitness goal, and it will crank out an entire workout for you that you can do completely in your dorm room.

 

Sleep

Sure, between the late night study sessions and last minute homework assignments at 3 in the morning, sleep can be a scarce thing for any college kid. While sometimes our all-nighters are born out of necessity and cannot be avoided, try not to make it a habit of it. Lack of sleep can reduce brain function, bring on physical and mental fatigue, make it difficult to concentrate, and produce killer headaches (not to mention a crabby mood.) Try your best to stick to a sleeping schedule, preferably one that allots for 6 or more hours of sleep a night. And, obviously, avoid eating or drinking anything before bed. Especially caffeine.

 

Relax

College is no doubt a stress fest, but having down time is also essential to staying healthy. I make it a point to always find time to relax and have fun with friends on a regular basis. Yes, while grades are incredibly important, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by overworking your brain either. Finding that balance between school, work, sleep, and a social life is difficult, but definitely possible. And once you find that balance, you will find yourself healthier and happier.  Guaranteed.