2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Graphic by Daman Singh

Snowflakes, stress and semester starts: Mental health in the winter 

By Radhya Comar, February 1 2024—

With what can be gathered from several popular sitcoms and numerous Buzzfeed articles on adulting, it seems that life in the real world tends to blend into one homogeneous, repetitive and hazy blur of the same. Day after day, Monica goes to work at the restaurant, Ross looks at his dinosaurs and Chandler carries out his duties as a transpondster (whatever that is.) 

Life in university, however, could not more different. Each month brings with it a new set of circumstances and expectations. September brings with it a smörgåsbord of new beginnings. New classes, new friends and new trifolds to peer at during clubs week. As many return to the city, they can sample the new restaurants on the food scene and shops both on and off campus. Still, these explorations may not last very long as the arrival of October also signifies the first round of due dates and tests. Despite all of the dreaded dropbox deadlines, no one can truly dislike the month of Thanksgiving and Halloween. Just as you’re hitting your stride in all of your classes, it’s all of a sudden November and reading week. Before you can catch your breath, its December. Gingerbread cookies, festively wrapped presents and Christmas carols await you if you can just get through finals. Even if just by the skin of your teeth. 

Then, it’s January — dreaded January. Scientifically, winter is known to have adverse effects on mental health. It is hypothesized that the lack of sunlight kickstarts chemical changes in the brain that lead to symptoms like anxiety, withdrawal and fatigue. The doomsday landscape of a winter city also reduces social activities which can further worsen such symptoms. To combat this, it is recommended to pay extra close attention to one’s physical health. This includes maintaining a regular sleep schedule and exercising to release endorphins. Nonetheless, the most important strategy is trying to get as much sunlight as possible. While there are numerous oral medications recommended to treat seasonal mood swings, one option worth exploring may be vitamin D supplements. Naturally produced by the body when in contact with UVB rays from the sun, this hormone is vital in regulating our emotions. 

Exercise, sleep and sunlight form the holy trinity of getting through the intense winter months for most. Although, what makes January more difficult for some is the start of the new semester. With the novelty of being back to school all worn off, returning to a gloomy, grey campus is not ideal. Moreover, winter break is not always the transformative and rejuvenating experience that it is made out to be. Sometimes, family drama over the holidays makes it anything but relaxing. Maybe the anxiety of waiting for exam results makes it not much if a break at all. Or, the results trigger pressure to do better in the next semester. Even though everyone’s travel suitcases and luggage have been put away by now, each student brings a unique set of baggage with them into the winter semester. 

What’s even worse is that students do not even have the comfort of a routine to fall back on. The start of the new semester means that all schedules have been shifted. The social routines that we once grew accustomed to in the previous months may no longer be feasible as everyone gets used to different class timings. The first few weeks of the new semester can also be a confusing time as students attempt to understand what’s expected of them in a new class. There are also residual feelings of restlessness as returning to school ignites the mental expectation of work and productivity. However, with classes just resuming, there is little to be done. For some, it is this idleness that makes starting up with school again a negative experience. 

Even though we belong to the generation that demonizes the nine to five pace in favour of wanderlust, the start of the winter semester serves as a reminder that there is a small creature of habit inside all of us. While these beginning few weeks are undoubtedly exciting, they also stir up a craving for the comfort of knowingness and a routine – especially in the cold, blistering winter months. Although there are countless remedies online for restlessness, anxiety and seasonal mood swings online, sometimes there is really not much to be done. All we can really do is try. Try to get better at exercising, sleeping, and readjusting. Try to make time for both ourselves and others — whether that’s watching our beloved Friends on a screen or venturing out into the cold to see our real ones. 

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet