“College will be the best four years of your life.” It’s a phrase that all 18-22 year olds have heard at least once. This cliche follows innocent freshmen to their new schools, raising their already-high expectations and paintings dreams of nonstop parties and dozens of new friends.
However, when adults repeat this hackneyed phrase, they forget to mention the tests. They omit the homesickness. They certainly neglect to mention the small hours of the morning when you can’t keep your eyes open but you still need to study and you haven’t even opened your textbook because you were binge-watching Netflix all night.
College can be rough. It’s all too easy to get stuck in an endless cycle of classes, studying and sleep, which is enough to make anyone occasionally feel depressed. This is especially true in the winter months, when it’s perpetually below freezing and you have to wake up before dawn every day. If this cycle or the weather has you feeling sad, here are five tips you can use to keep the midwinter blues away and stay on the bright side.
1. Stay Social
Alongside academics, a key aspect of the college experience is finding good people to be around — friends who will be there to laugh with you, study with you and keep your spirits up. For years, research has shown the numerous benefits of good company.
Socializing not only improves one’s mood and helps fight off depression, it also increases productivity. A study by the University of Chicago even found that those who are lonely are at a greater risk for sleep problems than their peers. As any college student knows, a sleepless night just makes it that much harder to concentrate in class or do your homework.
“When you’re in the cold, it’s easy just to get into a habit of isolating yourself, and that exacerbates the winter blues,” Dr. Michael Dasinger Assistant Professor at Tufts School of Medicine, told Insider magazine. Dasinger also advised “Go[ing] out of your way to avoid isolation,” since social interaction has a huge impact on emotional well-being.
If you’re feeling overstressed in the winter months, take the opportunity for a study break and catch up with friends over a mug of hot chocolate. It might cut into your studying time a bit, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.
Although the gym always seems too far away, an occasional workout provides a break from your normal routine, and helps you to forget the stress of college for a little while. In addition, exercise causes your brain to release dopamine, the chemical in your brain linked to feelings of happiness.
Patricia Laguna, professor of kinesiology at California State University, Fullerton, says that “Exercise can boost your mood, and you need that lift even more during the winter.” If that’s not enough of an incentive, just remember: hitting the gym or the trails is a good excuse to eat that extra brownie.
3. Soak Up the Sun
Strange as it may sound, humans are a little like plants: we need sunlight to function properly. The sun’s ray allow our body to produce vitamin D, which is vital for any healthy body to have. However, this can be a hard requirement to fulfill in winter, when the daylight hours are shorter. The cold weather, which drives most people back inside to study or watch Netflix, certainly doesn’t help.
Lack of sunlight is also one of the causes of winter depression, better known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD can cause low energy and moodiness during certain times of year, especially in the winter. Although SAD is a rare condition, it’s still important to get at least a little sunlight every day.
Fortunately, if you don’t want to go out in the cold, there are other ways to get enough light. One way to do this is by way of an artificial light source.
Light boxes are an easy way to get that extra hit of sunlight in the darker months. They’re small, portable, and can easily sit on your desk to give you that extra boost of energy. If that sounds like something you might want to use, you can find a light box on Amazon or in stores like Walgreens or Bed Bath and Beyond.
4. Catch some Z’s
Any college student understands the value of being well-rested, but it’s not always easy to practice what you preach.
According to the University of Georgia Health Center, the average college student gets 6-6.9 hours of sleep per night. In reality, college students should be getting at least eight hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation can have a direct impact on a student’s mental health, their physical health and even their GPA. However, in the rush of classes, clubs and friends, it’s understandable that the number of recommended sleep hours to falls to the wayside.
Even if you can’t get a full eight hours, you can try going to bed 30 minutes earlier when you can, or just taking a 20-minute afternoon nap. Either way, a bit of extra sleep will help reduce stress and keep your sanity intact.
5. Chocolate (‘nuff said)
There are many foods we wish we could eat in unlimited quantities: pizza, french fries, cake, ice cream…the list goes on. Unfortunately, doctors have attested countless times that those foods do not make for a healthy diet.
However, here’s some good news for sweet-tooths: dark chocolate has increasingly been linked to positive side effects. Recent studies have shown that a little dark chocolate can improve cardiovascular health and lead to healthier skin. More importantly, chocolate consumption lifts your mood by causing your body to release ‘happy’ neurotransmitters — serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine — the same neurotransmitter your brain releases when you exercise.
These benefits are connected mostly to dark chocolate, and not to the milk chocolate found in candy bars. And even dark chocolate has to be eaten in moderation. Still, it’s always nice to know that a study break can be punctuated by some chocolate to keep you going. If you’re feeling inspired, here’s a helpful list of healthier dark chocolate brands to get you started.
Hopefully, these tips will help you ward off the midwinter blues and keep your sanity intact until spring. Even if you can only use one or two of these tips per day, it can help lift your mood, and bring some warmth to an otherwise cold season. Nevertheless, always remember that if you’re truly feeling sad and nothing seems to change that, there’s no shame in seeking help with resources like the counseling office.