How to fight the winter blues

Seasonal depression can have severe negative effects on mental health. Graphic by Eli Davidson


It is about the time of year when feelings of sadness and lack of motivation become commonplace. The weather is cold, students are less energetic, and the overall mood of each day feels gloomier than ever. These issues stem from seasonal affective disorder, which is a widespread psychological condition that affects many during the colder months of the year. Spring may be just around the corner, but that does not mean the effects will disappear overnight. Here are some tips that can help prevent seasonal depression. 

Get moving 

Few things can take the mind off the stresses and anxieties of life better than physical exercise. While the weather may not be the nicest for spending time outside, Butler offers plenty of opportunities for indoor exercise. The Health and Recreation Center (HRC) is a great place for anyone looking for a good workout. Group fitness classes such as yoga and cycling are available Monday through Thursday. Classes can be a great way to try different types of exercise while simultaneously meeting new people. There are also tons of ways to exercise independently. Using the indoor track or one of the many treadmills can be a great substitute for running in the cold. 

Exercising inside is not the only option though, as the weather is not an issue for everyone. First-year sports media major A.J. Marcinko loves to go on runs in frigid temperatures. 

“On weekdays, I usually go out about 11-11:30 p.m.,” Marcinko said. Instead of running [being] the first thing, it’s the last thing of my day. I don’t want to deal with anybody. I don’t want to talk to anybody. I don’t want to see anybody. I want me and my music.” 

Going on a walk or running outside can help with isolation, as it is an excellent motivator for leaving the comforts of a dorm or a bed. Along with being exposed to the sun and fresh air and its many benefits, the simple act of getting up and going outside will help lessen the anxieties of college life. According to the Better Health Channel, walking is a surprisingly good way to stay in shape, as even a 30-minute walk can improve muscle strength and reduce body fat. Put on some tennis shoes and pop on a pair of earbuds or headphones but just remember to bundle up. 

Whether it is working out in the warmth of the HRC or toughing it out in the cold, exercise is an excellent mood booster. 

Show some self-love 

It may seem obvious, but self-care is essential to maintaining a positive mood. People often spend so much time worrying about the future or focusing on others that they forget to take care of themselves. This can lead to increases in anxiety and depression. Thankfully, self-care is different for everyone and can take virtually any form. Taking an hour out of a busy day to do something relaxing or productive can make all the difference. 

Steven Scally, a doctoral intern at Butler University’s Counseling and Consultation Services, likes to take care of himself by engaging in more constructive activities. 

“I also find that self-care for me is sometimes doing things I don’t want to do,” Scally said. “Sometimes we think of self-care as this fun pampering thing, and it’s not always like that.” 

Doing chores or other constructive tasks will allow for one less thing to worry about, which is a huge relief for anyone with a busy schedule. The act of completing chores also provides a sense of accomplishment and confidence that can greatly improve an individual’s mood. 

Sarah Anas, also a doctoral intern for Counseling and Consultation Services, supports this sentiment of self-improvement. 

“You might not want to clean your room, [and] you might not want to make a healthy meal, but that’s an act of self-respect to yourself,” Anas said. “Push yourself — if you’re able to — to try to not let the weather impact activities you’re engaged in.” 

Be lonely together 

Winter can be a lonely time for many. It can be hard to welcome others into one’s life when the weather itself is so unwelcoming. Combine that with the lack of motivation that’s spreading like wildfire, and it’s no wonder why so many people resort to self-isolation. 

Scally recognizes the effect that seasonal depression has. 

“Where [seasonal] depression gets tricky is it gets in your head that maybe the people who care about us don’t care about us as much as we think,” Scally said. “Trying to push past that urge to isolate yourself is a huge [help].” 

It can be tough to break past that wall, but the benefits of connecting with others are worth the effort. A strong support system is a great thing to lean on when life gets tough. It is also beneficial to be the one providing support, as the act of lending a helping hand to someone can end up helping everyone involved. 

Anas agrees with this idea and often gives similar advice to her clients. 

“I encourage all of my clients to lean on their support systems, even when it feels uncomfortable,” Anas said. “There’s this idea that ‘I don’t want to reach out to people, [and] I don’t want to burden them,’ but it feels good to help other people. It goes both ways.” 

It may seem like a lot of effort to look after and care for others, but there are plenty of simple ways to do so. Catch up with friends during mealtimes, or go for a morning Starbucks run and chat while waiting in line. Plan to spend time with friends on the weekend so there is something to look forward to during the week. FaceTime family members once a week to check in on them. Even the act of saying hello to someone from class while walking around campus can make all the difference. 

Marissa Gitzinger, a first-year psychology and Spanish double major, takes full advantage of the little moments with her friends. 

“After dinner, sometimes we’d go to someone’s room and play cards and board games, or just hang out,” Gitzinger said. “When I’m with my friends, we can bounce off of each other’s energy and laugh with each other. After, sometimes I feel tired since it’s been a long day, but it feels good to get out of the room and be around people.” 

Embrace the sunshine 

Sometimes it is the simplest things that can help the most. According to GoodRx Health, letting more sunlight into daily life can lead to increased serotonin levels, which is beneficial for improving mood. Along with this, exposure to sunshine in the morning can help to create a healthier sleeping schedule. The sun doesn’t only need to be enjoyed in the cold, either. Opening the blinds or choosing to study near a window are great ways to incorporate more sunshine into a busy day. An alternative to this is buying a Vitamin D sunlight lamp, which will provide many of the same benefits without the need to go outside. A sunlight lamp can be especially helpful during the shorter gloomier days of winter in the Midwest. 

For those who are looking for a reliable support system, Counseling and Consultation Services is an accessible resource that is free to all Butler students. They offer a variety of services including individual and group counseling, animal-assisted therapy, a de-stress room and much more. Appointments can be made through their website. There is also the SAMHSA National Helpline, which is a free 24-hour service that provides treatment for people struggling with mental health. 

The winter blues can be tough, but it won’t be long until spring comes around. Until then, stay on the bright side.


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