November is more than halfway over and the University of Maine has already received the first snow of the semester, the first day the sun sets before 4:00 p.m. and the first frigid, below-thirty-degree day. The mall, where students lounged in the sun in September, is now concealed in a layer of ice and snow. For students who have experienced Maine winters before, the preparation for short, cold and gray days has begun, and with it has come the onset of a hopeless, lethargic energy. But this winter, UMaine students can change their winter experiences by striding into the coming cold days with a new outlook and a set of winter blues-fighting tools under their belt.
A decrease in motivation and an increase in melancholy days are common in the winter, especially for those of us in northern New England. In the winter, the rays from the sun aren’t as strong as they are in the summer, and cannot produce enough vitamin D: an important vitamin shown to help regulate mood and increase serotonin levels. The latitude of our beloved school, therefore, doesn’t make winters any easier. In fact, research conducted by the faculty members of the Department of Psychology at Bates College, located in Lewiston, Maine, found a 19.7% prevalence rate for Seasonal Affective Disorder in the students they surveyed.
That doesn’t mean UMaine students are doomed to not enjoy the coming winter months. There are a myriad of resources and activities students have, and should, take advantage of.
When the temperature outside is cold and the energy is low, it’s important to find a space with a happy, warm atmosphere. These environments are easy to find on campus, as there are constantly events happenings where students band together for fun activities. This could be a Friday night hockey game where you might stand in the student section to yell and dance to the UMaine pep band while cheering on fellow students. If hockey or sports aren’t for you, attending a play or the dance showcase, for instance, with a group of friends and spending an hour or two relaxing while watching students perform with passion can foster the same feeling.
An article written by Alan Reifman for Psychology Today stated that identifying with the sports team at your school, or creating any positive association between yourself and your school, helps to boost social connections and reduce social isolation. Attending a sports game, watching a play, visiting Culturefest or participating in a paint and sip can drastically improve a student’s sense of community, which is a strong influencer in overall mental wellbeing.
It doesn’t help that the reduction in daylight and temperature coincides with the increase of impending papers, projects, exams and deadlines that occur at this time of the semester. On top of the winter blues, students also have to combat stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed.
The American College Health Association reported in 2018 that 60% of college students say that they experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in 2017, and over 40% reported feeling so depressed that they “had difficulty functioning.” It can be hard to prioritize social or mental health endeavors when the deadline for your 10-page paper is looming around the corner. But recognizing that taking time to take care of yourself can actually reduce feelings of anxiety and increase productivity.
If it’s too cold to wait outside for the Alfond doors to open, or it’s snowing and a campus activity got canceled, there are plenty of tips for college students to follow to foster productivity in a way that benefits their mental health and overall outlook on winter.
First, it is important to rid yourself of any guilt that accompanies taking time to care for yourself. It can feel wrong to watch your favorite TV show or spend an hour working on a crossword puzzle when there are so many other tasks on your to-do list, but there is an incredible benefit in essentially hitting the snooze button on responsibilities to make time for relaxation.
If you have some spare cash, consider splurging on a treat for yourself, like ordering your favorite take out, or purchasing a sun lamp that mimics the rays of the sun to produce some of that invaluable vitamin D. If that isn’t possible, make your way over to the Mind Spa, where you can relax in a comfy chair next to their sun lamp for free.
Like the Mind Spa, there are other resources on campus that can help connect students with attitude boosters this winter. If you find yourself having a hard time creating that sense of community on campus, consider reaching out to the Rainbow Resource Room, the Multicultural Center, the Center for Student Involvement, or a club that shares an interest of yours.
Winter is well on its way. But as the days grow shorter and colder, remember that the UMaine community has your back and can help you make the coming months a happy and enjoyable experience.