February can be one more of the more trying months of the year, and you may feel like your morale is at an all time low. Despite being the start of a New Year, February doesn’t feel like a fresh beginning. Instead it’s the exhausting halfway point connecting two semesters full of stress, a packed schedule and no end in sight. The reality is, we are in the middle of the long mid-winter slog to spring, and in general, everything feels so much more difficult in winter.
And this isn’t your average year, it’s year three of the pandemic and you may find yourself despairingly asking when or if it's ever going to end. Trying to avoid all of the general winter bugs on top of avoiding your first or second bout of Covid, may make you feel like crawling back under the sheets and staying there until further notice.
So how can you fight the February fatigue? You don't brush off that feeling as simply a case of the "winter blues" or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. You can take some easy steps to keep your mood and motivation steady and help build your resilience when the going feels super tough.
Here are some basic recovery steps to get you through to spring:
Remember, you’re not lazy, you’re tired! It’s cold and dark. We’ve been living in survivor mode for a long time and your mind is exhausted. You're halfway through your semester and the stress and pressure is kicking in, so be kind to yourself! Allow yourself to get as much rest as you need.
Remember that in the past 20 months, you’ve adapted, you’ve shown strength and determination and you’ve been resilient. If you start to feel negative self-talk creep in, spend time sitting down and writing a list of all the things you have accomplished and all the things you can be proud of. Stick the list on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or anywhere else you can see it frequently! Return to it anytime you start to hear that voice in your head to remind yourself of how capable you are.
Winter weather can often result in heightened levels of anxiety and stress, and for those already dealing with academic stress, a loss of motivation, or loneliness or anxiety in social situations, it may all start to feel impossible. Our tips below around finding anchors and managing self care can help support you with stress management, but when it comes to anxiety, it feels like sometimes this is something that is harder to prepare for.
Try and remember, not all of our anxious thoughts are rational. Each time you have an anxious thought, ask yourself, “and then what”?. This way you force yourself to think further ahead and will help you to weed out those thoughts that are unreasonable or improbable. Carve out time each day for a mental break and try to let go of any issues you are experiencing rather than ruminating.
If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, talk to someone about your experiences. Debrief, write down your feelings and reflect. TalkCampus is a great way to do this, especially if you feel like the anonymity will help you to open up.
If you’re feeling unbalanced try and find your ‘anchors’, the things that ground you and make you feel calm and which will help you navigate these colder, darker times. Maybe it’s a routine - the same breakfast each day or a moment for a coffee or tea each morning; something you do each day or return to. Perhaps it’s a hobby or perhaps it’s a friend you talk with regularly. Maybe you find a bit of time each day to ground yourself or you go for a run, listen to music or write in a journal. Find what works for you and use it to give yourself consistency, familiarity and to guide you through the ups and downs of life.
There’s an extreme form of the winter blues called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that causes people to be out of step with their daily sleep/wake schedule and in turn feel sluggish and down. One of the treatments often recommended is light therapy, which is a light box that mimics natural outdoor light and helps to cause a change in the brain chemicals linked to mood. This shows just how powerful natural light can be for keeping our mood steady, so try and make the most of the light during the day no matter how small the light window may be! Open your curtains, roll up your blinds and try to get outdoors when the light is out, rain, snow or hail!
With the shorter days and miserable weather, it’s tempting to hole yourself up at home and let your social life diminish. Remember, we benefit greatly from human contact and companionship, especially during these colder and darker periods! One of the strongest building blocks that can help to boost resilience is social support. Put your feelers out for a study group, either in person or virtual, and that way you can take turns testing each other on course content or swap essays to review. Stay connected to friends and family and schedule weekly catch ups. And connect with your student community on TalkCampus about the ups and downs of life. Unlike curated social media feeds, TalkCampus can help you to remember that everyone has a life that is just as imperfect as your own.
And finally, self care, self care, self care! Below are our TalkCampus top self care tips for winter
Drink Lots of Water.
We are very prone to dehydration in winter, with the indoor heating being especially drying. Studies have found that our moods, concentration, anxiety and fatigue levels are all affected by how hydrated we are. So get yourself a drink bottle and a goal water intake for each day.
Get Physical When You Can, in a way that makes you feel good so that you’ll stick to it!
Very few people enjoy an early morning run in the dark and freezing cold, so why not opt for a gentle midday walk or some evening yoga instead. Generating endorphins can massively impact your mood and how well you sleep.
Stay Off 'The Gram' as Much as You Can.
It might seem like an easy way to stay entertained, but scrolling through social media can actually be harmful to your mental health. If you’re looking for connection, jump on TalkCampus instead. It’s real and raw, and will help to remember you aren’t alone in whatever you are going through.
Cut Down on Sugar and Prioritise Your Nutrition.
We know that eating all the food is a perk of the winter months, but after an initial boost in energy, sugar actually makes us feel more lethargic and studies show that high intake of sugar can decrease the body’s ability to deal with stress. Try full up on as many whole foods as possible, and keep the chocolate as an occasional treat.
Declutter Your Space.
Getting rid of excess stuff can benefit your mental health by making you feel calmer, happier, and more in control. A tidier space can make for a more relaxed mind.
There’s no denying it: winter can be pretty damn tough. While it may feel challenging at the moment, remember that March is the light at the end of the February tunnel. You are almost there, take a deep breath, practice your self-care, and know that you are capable of getting through it.