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:
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
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.
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.