Seasonal depression, seasonal affective disorder, wintertime blues or whatever such epithet you prefer runs abundant in the gloomy region we call home. Regardless of the severity, most people experience a lowering of energy and mood when the days grow shorter and colder. For those who have never lived in climates that experience such a drastic loss of daylight in the winter months, this can come as an unpleasant shock.
In my years of experience with depression, both the yearlong and the seasonal variety, I have found that one of the best ways to cope is to lean in to the natural cycle of slowing down. Many mammals hibernate and hunker down during the wintertime, yet humans are expected to go about our lives in the same manner as we would in the other seasons.
Note that this article is not a professional advice column, and particularly with mental health, it is important to acknowledge that everyone has a different experience. Rather, I intend to offer a critique of the capitalist mindset that we must always be productive workhorses despite the natural deficits in energy that occur in many people.
A key part of my wintertime survival kit is establishing “cozy time.” If you do not already have an activity that requires minimal energy, yet is still mentally stimulating, there is an entire world of hobbies to explore. My favorites are knitting, listening to audiobooks and baking. Crafting is a popular winter pastime, but if that is not your thing, you could also try puzzles or board games. These activities can be done in solitude or in company, and depending on your social needs, you can tailor them accordingly.
The setting of the activity is equally important. It can be difficult to find spaces on campus that have a cozy atmosphere, but there are plenty of nooks to be found if you know where to look. I won’t give away my hideaways, but you’d be surprised how many lounges and spaces go unused. Wear comfortable clothes, bundle under blankets and make yourself a mug of tea or hot chocolate.
Another element to getting through winter is leaning into the holiday spirit. This is not limited to Christmas, as personally I find the garish decorations and constant replaying of Mariah Carey quite obnoxious, but really any traditions or events you or your family celebrate.
There is a reason why many cultures around the world have some type of holiday in the winter. It is an excuse to make comforting food, gather with your community and find some meaning and joy in the desolate months. Creating your own traditions can be meaningful as well, especially when living away from home.
It might seem frivolous to intentionally make time for yourself in this way, especially if you are accustomed to getting through class, studying and responsibilities by unwinding with a scroll through TikTok (or Instagram Reels if you are an old soul). Many of us balance being a full time student with responsibilities of jobs, sports, clubs and other extracurriculars, leaving us with little time to “do nothing.”
External pressures expect us to function at the same level no matter what emotional or physical bandwidth we have, but we still have control over the expectations we place on ourselves. Drinking tea or picking up a puzzle is not going to fix your problems, but it can make getting through life a bit more manageable. Embrace winter’s chill instead of giving it the cold shoulder.
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