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Student life and the ‘Winter Blues’

By Vidya Ramesh

Thursday 15 December 2016 Student journalists

“The most wonderful time of the year.” Unfortunately many students out there might not see the yuletide season in this light. According to NHS UK, it is thought that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more commonly termed as ‘Winter Blues’ affects more than two million people in the country, and around 12 million across northern Europe.

It is not hard to see why the winter season necessitates unwanted and abrupt changes in the routine and lifestyles of the general population. As the sun sets sooner and rises later, we become accustomed to a day drenched in dark, leaving un all the more unwilling to prise ourselves from bed. A feeling of lethargy sets in, which is exacerbated by the starchy and stodgy food that we instantly crave in times of cold. Such lethargy further draws us away from occasions for social interaction and laughter.

But are the student population particularly prone to winter blues, and if so, why?

It would not be implausible to imagine that this is the case. The flexibility and ‘manage-your-own-time’ philosophy that underpins life on campus can be a curse in as much as it is a blessing. Campus reps might cry out for you to buy advance half-price tickets to the club that night, but there is no one there to enforce it; there is no compulsion to go out and meet people. As winter sets in and the cold bites, we let this independence to do what we want take hold of us and make us do only one thing: nothing. We make up excuses for skipping a night to the movies with friends: we have a cold or are Skyping Mum. Friends can try to help, but they don’t have the magical power to force you to withdraw from the cocoon that seasonal depressive thoughts bind you into.

So what can students do to tackle the winter blues? Forcing yourself to be sociable when you are internally not in the best mindset might not be the best place to start. Instead first focus on the mechanisms and aspects of personal life that will help set your limbs and emotions in the best position possible; take nutrition. Nourishing your body with nutrient-dense foods, particularly those containing mood-regulating B vitamins, is a good place to start. It might be worth skipping the Maccy Ds for a hearty vegetable soup paired with a couple of thick slices of vitamin-fortified wholemeal bread. Fuel your body in this way for exercise, rewarding yourself after every essay paragraph with a brisk walk around your accommodation block to soak up the precious glimpses of vitamin D in the early afternoon. Keep your room bright (and Christmassy!) by decorating it with fairy lights, and play upbeat, motivational ambient music to get the endorphins pumping.

Things can get trickier as term draws to a close; the prospect of receiving sustained help from the tools available to us on campus, such as a counselling sessions and wellbeing services, becomes increasingly distant in view of the interruption that the holidays pose to such treatments of SAD. At this point in the academic year, students – caught in limbo between the university and NHS care providers – are forced to take their mental health into their own hands.

But we should remember that the simplest things can be tremendously uplifting for our spirits. Hayley Goold, Campus Representative for Student Minds Cambridge, reflects: “Top of the list for me is watching a good Christmas movie (Elf never fails to make me smile), preferably snuggled under a blanket with hot chocolate”. Looking forward to the good things that the winter season bodes, is equally crucial, Hayley adds: “Making plans to see friends from home and spending quality time with family over the Christmas break always lifts my spirits”.

At the very least we can try to somewhat embrace the lethargy that the cold drapes over us, as an opportunity to be still, and to reflect on our personal development at university: on how far we have come, on how new faces we have seen, and on the many more extraordinary people we are going to meet on campus come 2017.

Hi there, my name is Vidya and I’m an undergraduate student reading History at the University of Cambridge. I grew up in Manchester, the birthplace of the Guardian and Suffragette movement; it was impossible not be continually aware of the power of activism, solidarity, and liberal politics. On campus I try to channel these incredibly charged ideas into practical action, particularly in regards to the welfare of students who identify as women. As a director for a student-run think-tank, The Wilberforce Society, I have overseen events on raising the participation of women in public policy, while also co-authoring a policy paper on sexual assault policies within higher education institutions. As a campaign manager for my University’s Women’s Campaign I am also organising a programme of activities to help female students tackle anxiety. In my spare time I enjoy powerlifting (still at a novice level, sadly), as well as living ethically to the best of my ability, such as by following a vegan lifestyle (#vegangainz). As an NUS Journalist I hope to raise awareness of the events taking place on campus that centre around the three concepts I mentioned before: activism, solidarity, and liberal politics. Whether in the form of an intersectional feminist reading group, to a disabilities rally outside the students’ union, you will be sure to hear it hot-off-the-press from me!