These are strange times we’re living in. This academic year is unique: taking place mostly (if not exclusively) online. Hours on top of hours are spent behind the laptop, social interactions have reduced in number significantly and library-coffee-breaks are no more. It’s more challenging than ever before to connect with peers for both first-year students and those who are further along their academic careers. Procrastination, being unable to concentrate, a lack of a schedule and reduced motivation are among the most common challenges. Corona has impacted everyone’s social life and on top of this the days are getting shorter, colder and rainier. During Fall, many students find themselves dealing with a case of the Winter Blues, going by the official name of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Usually the cozy Christmas markets, glühwein and the good old ugly-Christmas-sweater-get-togethers form some consolation, but with the pandemic those options are sadly unavailable. Not jolly at all. What can one do to deal with the Corona-winter-blues effectively?
About the Winter Blues
In Short, SAD is simply a depression that presents exclusively in the Fall and Winter . The symptoms need to be quite severe for this to be called a ‘winter depression’, but many people struggle with the Blues. Does it take much effort to get up in the mornings? Perhaps you’re not feeling completely like yourself? Struggling to complete your to-do list? You’re not alone. See our practical tips and tools below.
There’s no shortage of delicious, sugary, fatty snacks this time of year and the urge to Netflix-away the rainy days is very understandable. This may seem like an open door, but it is essential this season to keep eating healthily, to get enough sleep and to keep exercising. Taking your study-break outside for a 20- or 30-minute walk, for example, is a great start. If possible, try to incorporate 30 minutes a day of exercise that elevates the heart rate, think of running or (fast) biking. Treating yourself to an ‘oliebol’ or glass of wine, of course, is no big deal, but interchange this with getting seasonal fruits and vegetables into your meal plan. If you are in need of inspiration, the voedingscentrum website has plenty of healthy recipes to try out. Regular movement and a varied diet support your sleep quality, which in turn supports your focus and a steady level of energy throughout the day. This is essential because sleep is like the ‘save’-button for your new (study) knowledge.
Acknowledge what’s going on
We tend to avoid thoughts and feelings that make us feel uncomfortable (think of fear, sadness, anger). Although this is normal, studies indicate that when we try to ignore or suppress these aspects of experience, these feelings tend to linger . Emotions can be considered messengers and you might wonder what your bad mood or short fuse are trying to tell you: What do I need right now? Am I balanced? Could I do something kind for myself this week? Invite those unwanted thoughts and see if you can find out what you need this season. Take on the role of investigator, or detective, rather than that of a judge. This video from the School of Life discusses the value of introspection in more depth:
Stay within your circle of influence
Do you struggle with staying focused? Try out this exercise (adapted from Steven Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”). You will need two blank papers and a pen.
1. On an empty sheet, write down everything that is pulling at your attention right now. This may be thoughts, situations, a remark by a friend, some memory, the dishes that you still need to do - note everything that is on your mind. Write until you feel you have emptied your brain onto the paper.
2. On the other blank paper, draw a large circle and around that draw an even larger circle. The center circle is your ‘circle of influence’. You exert (some form of) control over the items that reside in this circle. Outside of it lies your ‘circle of concern’. Here are factors that distract you but that are not in your power (such as a pandemic).
3. Place all of your items from step 1 in the appropriate circle.
This exercise allows you to create an overview of what is drawing your attention away from your task and which of those things are (not) in your control. If you notice you’re exerting a lot of effort on the items in the circle of concern, seek options for spending energy in the circle of influence instead.
Create your personal comfort-list
What makes you happy? Where do you find (small bits) of joy? Barbara Ann Kipfer wrote “14,000 things to be happy about”. Apparently, this world is not lacking ‘things to be happy about’. Think for yourself which activities, meals, people, concepts etc. bring you joy. However large or small of a spark of happiness it brings, it all counts and helps. Whenever you need a little energy- or happiness boost, this comfort-list can guide you. You might engage in activities on the list so long as they are covid-proof, you might cook those meals, call your friends. Further suggestions for the list: a compliment you have received; a character trait you’re proud of; the name of your best friend; a warm memory; your favorite snack; your favorite books and movies; your (future) pet; your favorite outfit.
The corona-winter-blues can be tough. Try out these tips and remember that the blues, like all other feelings, are temporary. If you need more support and tools our student coaches are here for you. Take care and stay healthy, have a jolly Christmas and a happy new year, from the Wakker bij Bakker-team.
 American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013
 Wegner, D.M. (1994). Ironic processes of mental control. Psychological Review 101: 34-52
 Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York: Free Press, 2004. Print.