Winter is a difficult time for many of us. The worsening weather, darkening days, and cold months can lower our spirits and make it hard for us to focus. But the pace of college doesn’t let up — with finals rapidly approaching and revision needing to be done in the meantime, this can be a stressful period for students. Now is when you need to look after yourself, and focus on your well-being. College studies are a marathon, not a sprint, so you need to ensure you don’t burn yourself out too soon. Now that the clocks have gone back and the nights are coming earlier, here’s some advice for how to cope with the stress you might be feeling.
First and foremost: make sure to go outside. It’s getting colder and darker, but that’s exactly why spending time out in the daylight is so important. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a seasonal depressive condition that recurs each year in the winter months — affects many of us, to greater or lesser degrees. This is somewhat dependent on climate: if you live where there’s a marked change in the seasons, and the winter brings with it rain and snow, you’re more likely to suffer from this condition. Many people will feel at least some change in their mental state during the winter. We need sunlight to be healthy and happy — not just for producing vitamin D, but for producing serotonin and bringing peace of mind. So while the cold outdoors might not seem too inviting when you’re tucked up inside, try to make time for a short walk at least a couple of times a week. This short exposure to the sunlight will help regulate the mood and brighten your spirits. Wrap up warm, and you’ll feel the benefit of it. And if you suspect you’re suffering significantly from SAD, it might be wise to invest in a sun-lamp. These mimic the light of the sun, and can be a blessing for those who need them.
Making time to go outside is part of a general point that will help alleviate stress: make time for yourself. Though this part of the academic year is especially busy, you won’t do your work as effectively if you don’t make time to take a break from it. Counterintuitively, pausing and resting will actually save you time working on a problem. So be kind to yourself, and let yourself relax. Whatever might be your way of doing this — whether it’s sports, music, reading, movies — work it into your routine. No one can study all the time, and no one can be expected to. Take breaks, and you’ll find the work you do, and the mental state you do it in, will improve accordingly.
An important way to ensure that you can take this time for yourself, without feeling stressed that you should be working, is to plan your time in advance. Now that we approach the final weeks of the trimester or quarter, it’s understandable to feel lost in a sea of deadlines: papers due, revision for finals pressing. Again, somewhat counterintuitively, spending the time to plan your schedule now will actually save you time in the long-run. Lay out what topics you need to cover by when, and when your assignments are due. You can then prioritize your time accordingly: focus on revising topics in a logical manner, leave yourself enough time to digest each one properly, and don’t feel that you need to learn everything. Once you have a plan for when you need to work on what, you can then work in time to relax, time for yourself. With a clear view of what the next weeks will look like, you’ll find the stress will be relieved.
When we’re stressed, often one of the first things we neglect is how well we look after our body. This is crucial to keep your spirits high during these busy times. Try to eat as well as you can — healthy meals, at regular hours — and drink lots of water. Exercise in whichever way you prefer, whether this is a brisk walk or a full-blown gym routine; this will get the endorphins flowing through your body, and help you ground yourself. This may all seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing. If your body is healthy, then you’ll be better placed to tackle the stresses of everything else that’s going on around you.
And remember — you don’t need to go through any of this alone. Use the support networks you have around you — make time to socialize, to see your friends, to talk about things that aren’t at all work related, to vent about those things that are stressing you out. Everyone’s in this together, and your college friends will understand exactly how you’re feeling. Socializing is an essential part of combating the winter blues. Sitting in a warm, bright room, chatting with a friend while it’s dark outside, can do much to lift your spirits. Don’t try to shoulder all your burdens alone, and don’t feel you can’t make time to see your friends. Reach out to the others that care about you in your life too — call home, catch up with your family. We all have support networks around us — make sure to use them.
Finally, and this is an important one — don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re not the first one to feel stressed at this time of year, with all the pressures of college. Your tutors will be aware of the ways in which their students are prone to struggle through a given class. They are there to help you, so if you need it, ask. You should be able to meet up outside of class time to discuss the problems you might be having, and to go over topic areas you’re finding difficult. If you need extra support, you might wish to consider external tuition with someone experienced in your topic, to help you through. Reach out and use the resources available to you. It will be much easier to identify the causes of your stress and tackle them head-on when you do.
The long nights and short days of winter aren’t easy. But by taking the time to look after yourself, to see your friends and rest, you’ll find you have much more energy to deal with work, revision and exams. Remember that you have people and resources there to help you. In so doing, your stress will be something not that you’re overwhelmed by, but that you can manage.
About the Author: Stephen attended the University of Oxford, where he received his B.A. in Philosophy & French, followed by his MSt in Ancient Philosophy. For the past five years, Stephen has taught and mentored students from middle school through college in positions all over the world, from the UK to South Korea. He focuses on language and humanities instruction, coupled with intensive writing skills and college application coaching. His language studies saw him teach English for a year in southern France, as well as holding a technical translation position in Spanish in Barcelona. He has received formal training in mental health support, and has substantial experience working with students with anxiety and depression. Stephen is a warm and dynamic individual, who focuses on creating an open and engaging learning environment. He is currently based in the UK, where he enjoys reading, taking long walks, and playing the guitar and piano.