As a Fresher, there are a lot of obvious ‘firsts’ that you are able to prepare yourself for in advance of starting university — your first night away from home, your first seminar, your first assignment — but preparing myself for my first holiday season away from home was something that hadn’t even crossed my mind until it was too late.
It is no secret to those who know me well that Christmas is by far my favourite time of year. I’m a sucker for all things festive, whether it be driving around and admiring the neighbours’ Christmas lights or the cheesy Hallmark movies that are all just slight variations of the exact same plot; if it sparks holiday cheer then I am all over it.
This year, though, I found that the excitement of advent calendars and mince pies was overshadowed by a sense of isolation brought on by cold days and long dark nights; a feeling that only deepened when I had to watch my family put up our Christmas decorations on a FaceTime call instead of being there in person to help put the baubles on the tree. As it turns out, the most wonderful time of the year can also be one of the loneliest.
It can be tempting to hole up inside and avoid the harsh elements of the outside world
I’m not alone in feeling this way; Christmas can be a difficult time for many people across the UK. Whilst the holidays are usually seen as being a time of merriment and joy, they can also be a time of stress, loneliness and anxiety. Highly demanding and emotionally taxing, a lot can be taken out of us as we attempt to manage the logistics of shopping, travelling, and fulfilling social obligations that come along at this time of year — things that we university students have to balance alongside all our other academic commitments and fast-approaching deadlines.
Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, winter itself can have a profound impact on your general well-being. As the days get shorter and light becomes scarce, it can be tempting to hole up inside and avoid the harsh elements of the outside world. This variation of hibernation, however, can often produce adverse results, affecting mood, sleeping and eating patterns, and potentially provoking feelings of isolation. It is important to note, though, that if this begins to affect your day-to-day life you could be experiencing what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder — ‘seasonal depression.’ If this is the case, it is highly recommended that you reach out to a professional; your GP will be able to provide further information and assistance, as well as Warwick’s Wellbeing Support Services.
After reflecting on my experiences of unhappiness within the last few weeks of term, I have compiled a list of my top tips for dealing with the winter blues that may be useful to implement into your routine if you have found yourself resonating with any of this article. I know that I shall certainly be implementing some of these into my daily routine come January when the post-Christmas slump hits — another can of worms in and of itself.
Reaching out to someone can make a world of difference in how you are feeling
#1: Let yourself feel what you need to feel. It can be easy to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of life, especially as university students with all our prior commitments and academic obligations, so much so that it can be tempting to push away any negative feelings in fear of them interfering with our daily productivity. In the long run, though, this can simply make us feel worse, a dark cloud of unprocessed emotion looming over our heads. Try to find a time where you can sit with how you feel and let your emotions do what they need to do; sometimes we have to allow ourselves to take a hit in order to bounce back once again.
#2: Reach out to someone. Whether it be friends, family, or a mental health professional, reaching out to someone can make a world of difference in how you are feeling. It is important to remember that you are not alone and having just a little bit of extra support in tough times never goes amiss.
#3: Set aside time each day for self-care. It is incredibly important to be kind to yourself in times when you may not be feeling up to scratch, but it can be difficult to always remember to give yourself that little extra TLC when you need it. Make an active effort to implement some of the things that bring you the most joy into your daily routine. Indulge in that hot chocolate. Rewatch your favourite film. Even when you feel like you have to be constantly on the go, taking the time to let yourself relax is vital to reducing stress and restoring inner calm.
Don’t be afraid to sit some events out if that’s what you need
#4: Get out and about. Whether it be a brisk walk around the block in the fresh winter air or a coffee date with an old friend, getting fresh air and taking advantage of what little sunlight there is incredibly important in the short winter days; a daily dose of vitamin D is great for battling the winter blues.
#5: Learn how to say no. Whilst socialising can play a big part in maintaining a happy, healthy lifestyle, agreeing to plans when you really wish to say ‘no’ can sometimes leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed; your loved ones will understand if you need to take some time to yourself, so don’t be afraid to sit some events out if that’s what you need.
#6: Remember to have fun! The holidays can be whatever you want them to be, so make sure that what you are doing is what you want to be doing. As long as you are enjoying yourself then that is all that matters!