Winter Blues and SAD

Fall quarter is almost over and you’re probably ready for winter break. Going home for the holidays can be great – and it can be exhausting. You’ll be transitioning from a full class load with many responsibilities to resuming your role at home and seeing family and friends. While taking a break from a busy schedule can be a stress reliever, the winter blues can creep up on you.

You might notice some changes in how you act and feel, such as increased appetite, less energy or difficulty getting out of bed, less interest in things you usually like doing, or more irritability or sadness. While some of the changes might sound like signs of depression, they could be due to another mental health problem – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it just depends on how much these things are affecting you. SAD usually affects people in the winter months and is even more common in places like Seattle, where the sun sets and rises noticeably later in the winter months. To learn more about SAD, check out the video below:

What can you do to fight the winter blues or signs of SAD?

  • Try creating a routine for yourself over winter break, like picking a time to wake up every day.
  • Schedule easy acts of self-care, like taking a walk, or drinking your favorite tea.

Depression in all its forms can be a serious problem. If you think this might be what you are going through you should seek help and more information (like from the SPU Counseling Center). Remember, it’s okay to reach out if you are having a rough time and could use some extra support. It’s important to get help so you can start feeling better sooner.

Grief and the Holidays

We get many messages from our culture about how holidays are supposed to feel—happy, joyous, full of warm relationships with friends and family. But what about when they’re not? About 20-30% of undergraduates nationwide are in the process of grieving a loved one. Being a college student during the holiday season can be complicated enough on its own. Academic pressure and other responsibilities can leave you little time to deal with your feelings. This can be even more stressful if you’re trying to cope with the loss of a loved one, dealing with difficult family relationships, or if you’re dreading going home.

What are some of the ways you can handle grief during the holidays?

  • Find ways to talk about your feelings instead of bottling them up – say a prayer, share happy stories, or light a candle for the person you’re missing
  • Be kind to yourself – don’t push yourself to participate in holiday activities that are too much for you
  • Remember that grief is very personal – we all grieve and mourn the loss of loved ones in private and unique ways
  • Check out Actively Moving Forward, a group that empowers and connects college students to other college students going through the grieving process

Remembering to do little things over the holidays can help with sad and unhappy feelings. Find time for yourself away from others if being social is too much for you. Take time to make sure you are eating well and often enough. Schedule activities you enjoy doing – sit down and read that book or watch that movie you didn’t have time to read or watch during the quarter. Lastly, allow yourself time to recover from the holidays and remember that you are doing the best you can.

If you’re struggling or just need someone to talk to, you can always reach out to SPU’S Counseling Center or call the Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255).

Gratitude

Grief and difficult family members can make Thanksgiving hard to get through so sometimes being thankful during the holiday season can be a challenge. Gratitude, being thankful for things you already have, is a hot topic in positive psychology. Positive psychology examines the good things that people do, feel, and think in order to understand how to help people thrive and be happy.

Positive psychology has found that the more gratitude you have, the greater sense of well-being, happiness, and energy you may have.  Acknowledging the good things in your life can create more good things, like positive thoughts, higher self-esteem, and optimism. Your physical health may also improve as you express more gratitude. People who express more gratitude have reported fewer aches and pains and even better sleep. Expressing gratitude towards others you care about may also help improve those relationships. Gratitude can help you feel happier mentally and physically and improve relationships, and in turn, those things can help you deal with difficult challenges and improve your overall health.

What are some easy ways you can express gratitude?

  • Write down what you’re grateful for
  • Mentally say thank you, even for basic things in your life, like clean water, clean air to breathe
  • Express your gratitude to others through notes, texts, or phone calls
  • Pray or meditate

Gratitude not only makes you feel better but can bring happiness and good feelings to those around you. So, while you’re sitting down with friends and family for Thanksgiving and feeling thankful, try to remember that gratitude can be used and felt year round!

Consent

Consent culture has become a popular movement that is raising awareness about the importance of understanding, giving, and obtaining consent. The basic definition of consent is that it gives permission or agreement for something to happen. However, there is more to consent than just saying “no”. Here are some other aspects about consent to think about:

  1. Informed consent – you 100% know what you are getting into and there is an open and clear understanding between you and the other person of what is going to happen.
  2. Enthusiastic consent – if you are not excited to participate then check-in with yourself, do you really want to do this? Does the other person seem equally enthusiastic? If not, slow it down and check-in.
  3. Continuous consent – just because you say “yes” to one act, like kissing, does not mean you have agreed to other acts, consent is specific.
  4. Consent is freely given– you should never feel like you have to say “yes” out of guilt or fear.

In addition to different types of consent, it’s important to know that you can say no or change your mind at any time, to anyone. Consent involves clear communication about what each person is comfortable with and how each person’s boundaries can be respected. Consent is also a big part of healthy relationships. Unfortunately, in a study on consent, 11.7% of college students from 27 universities reported nonconsensual sexual contact.

A big part of creating and maintaining healthy relationships is communicating around consent to activities. It’s important to check-in with yourself when you’re in a situation where someone is asking you to give consent or do something you’re hesitant about. Ask yourself if you need a break to think about what you want to do.

If you have any doubts about participating in any activities with another person, give yourself time to think about it! You can always say, “I need to stop” or “I’m not feeling comfortable, can we slow it down?”. Check-in with the other person often, with open questions like “How are you feeling about this?” and if they seem less than enthusiastic, back up and take a break.

Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships can help increase physical and mental health. Close healthy relationships can even boost the immune system. Receiving positive and non-judgemental support from others can help reduce the stress and anxiety of everyday life. However, relationships are the most helpful when they not only help us go through difficult times, but also when they help us grow during the good times too.

As we discussed last week when talking about boundaries, creating healthy relationships also takes work – it requires that you know what healthy relationships are and that you take an active role in shaping them. To help you figure out if you’re in a healthy relationship or not, ask yourself, “How do I feel after spending time with them?” Healthy relationships usually leave people feeling supported, reflective, or challenged in a good way. Toxic relationships leave people filled with self-doubt, negativity, or worry more often than not. Besides setting boundaries with others, what are some of the ways you can develop healthy relationships?

  • Clear and honest communication
  • Admitting and accepting responsibility when you make a mistake
  • Supporting each other but not belittling or giving unwanted advice
  • Trusting the other person and giving them the benefit of the doubt
  • Not engaging in manipulation or intimidation

While this list might seem obvious – these issues can come up in any relationship, including your parents, friends, significant others, or mentors. It’s also easy for relationships to start out healthy and then become unhealthy or even toxic over time.

Toxic relationships can cause stress and other mental health problems that can impact you even when you’re not with the other person. They can make you more irritable, making it difficult to concentrate and perform well in class. Toxic relationships can even put you at a greater risk for physical health problems.

As you go through college, you will meet many different people and will have to navigate how to develop and maintain healthy relationships. Remember it’s healthy to put yourself first and to check-in with how the other person makes you feel. You can create healthy relationships that will help you handle stress and difficult times but that will also help you grow when things are going well!

Setting Healthy Boundaries with Friends

Healthy boundaries will help you shape calm and happy relationships with friends, classmates, and coworkers. Healthy boundaries are about setting expectations and limits around how we treat ourselves and the people around us. Setting limits around how you allow yourself to be treated and how you treat other people can help boost your sense of self-worth and self-respect. It can be stressful when others test your boundaries, and even more stressful when you’re unsure how to address those situations. You may end up saying “yes” to things you don’t want to do, which can also cause stress.

  1. The first step to setting healthy boundaries is to check in with how you are feeling. If you’re feeling upset or stressed out, be curious about what is going on. Taking the time to understand how much a situation is affecting your emotions can help you decide where to set a boundary so that you can let others know your limits.
  2. After deciding to set a boundary, the next step is to advocate for yourself and be assertive. Assertive communication lets others know what your wants and needs are, while also considering the other person. Letting others know your expectations is a way to stand-up for yourself and how you want to be treated.
  3. Learn to say no! A difficult part of setting healthy boundaries is letting others know when you can’t take on anymore tasks or when you need time to yourself.

Lastly, it can be hard to develop and maintain boundaries. It will not always be easy to let others know how you feel and how you want to be treated. It will take practice and repetition. However, setting boundaries with others is a way to be kind to yourself. It’s important to recognize that setting boundaries is not selfish and everyone has boundaries. Check out Dr. Brené Brown’s 3 Ways to Set Boundaries for more tips on setting healthy boundaries!

Time Management

College is a time of go, go, go. You have a lot happening – you have classes, a personal life you’re trying to keep up with, and your own mental and physical health. How can you balance it all?

Creating structure for yourself, such as studying at the same time every week, can help you balance your academic workload. Creating a routine can alleviate the stress of not knowing what is coming up next or being surprised by deadlines. Try sitting down once a week to make a list of everything coming up the next week that you need to do, then pull out a calendar or planner and assign dates and time slots to each task. This can help you tackle the upcoming week with less stress!

The time you’ve had available to spend on your social life can fade as Fall quarter deadlines start to creep up. Having trouble squeezing in friend time? Double up! Create study dates with friends and spend the first 30 minutes to an hour catching up on life. It’s important to keep a healthy personal life balance because you cannot be in school mode all the time. It’s not good for your brain, or your mood!

Finding time to exercise is important, but mental health often gets pushed to the back-burner when trying to manage your time. Self-care is especially important when working and living in the stressful environment of college. Schedule time to do activities you enjoy and bring you a sense of peace – maybe this is reading a fiction book, watching a movie, or even making yourself a good meal. Treat yourself.

Lastly, when managing your time and trying to find balance, don’t be afraid to say “no” to extra activities or responsibilities. You don’t have to do it all and it’s better to find balance and success!

Setting Goals

Setting goals is a common way to motivate yourself into action. But setting the wrong kinds of goals can have unexpected consequences on your mood. Setting unrealistic goals can cause you unnecessary stress and lead to feelings of failure for not meeting those goals. Setting goals that are realistic can motivate you and help you find success.

How can you set realistic goals? Try using this method! Good goals are SMART, which stands for:

  • Specific goals are not too vague and include important details like what, who, when, where, and why. Doing well in class is a great goal, but the goal of studying every Monday is a better and more specific goal.
  • Measurable goals let you know when the goal has been met. For example, setting a goal to study for two hours is measurable compared to setting a goal to just study.
  • Attainable goals are realistic. Maybe you want to start exercising more – but getting to the Olympics from the couch might be difficult in a quarter. Try setting a goal of a weekly walk!
  • Relevant goals can help you prioritize. For example, it might be more important to study for a test that is happening tomorrow than to try to get ahead for readings in another class.
  • Time based goals can also help you meet deadlines on time, for example, setting aside a chunk of time a week before a paper is due to write, is going to help you meet your goal of finishing the paper on time (and not at the last minute!).

Lastly, while it might be helpful for you to follow S.M.A.R.T. goals to find success, it’s important to recognize what your individual strengths are and to utilize them. Maybe you perform better under shorter deadlines or setting a slightly higher than attainable goal will motivate you even more to complete a task. Maybe you will benefit more from smaller, easier goals at first. Regardless, be kind to yourself and remember you can always adjust your goals!

Fitting in Exercise

Unless you’re a student athlete, it can be hard to find the time and motivation to exercise. On top of juggling your academic responsibilities and deadlines, it’s starting to get colder and darker outside. While it might seem like extra work, exercise comes with many benefits – making it worthwhile!

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to help yourself manage stress. Stress is everywhere in college. Stress can contribute to feeling anxious and low. Stress can worsen physical symptoms too, leading to problems like shoulder tension, stomach upset, or headaches.

Exercise can help treat symptoms of anxiety, depression, and help boost overall mood. Research has found that exercise can not only reduce stress but improve alertness and concentration. Exercise can alleviate some of these problems by relieving tension, both physical and mental.  When you feel better, you can perform better – in and outside of the classroom.

What can you do to add or increase your exercise routine?

  • Set small goals to exercise a few times a week. The success of meeting small goals can motivate you to go after bigger goals, like longer and more frequent workouts. Check out these dorm-friendly workouts that only require a chair and a wall!
  • Attend a Be Well: Mindful Yoga class – these classes are every Monday night from 7pm – 8pm and FREE for undergraduates.
  • Make it fun! Going for a walk, a bike ride, a fall hike, or playing outdoor games with friends can be fun ways to squeeze in exercise, especially on the weekends.
  • Lastly, you can visit SPU’s fitness center to get a cardio workout or visit the weight room – open from 7am to 11pm!

Sleep & Diet Management

As Fall quarter starts, maintaining a healthy sleep and diet routine can be difficult. Academics and extracurriculars start to take priority. All-nighters and late-night snack runs start happening, and sometimes you even skip breakfast – all which can impact your success as a college student!

Your goal for sleep? Seven to nine hours a night. Here are a few tips to help you get that full night of rest:

  • You’ve definitely heard this before but limit screen time. Put your cell phone away 30 minutes before bed (crazy, I know) and try reading if you’re having a hard time sleeping.
  • Be careful of trying to “catch up” on sleep on the weekends. Unfortunately, this isn’t how sleep works, you can’t stock up on it for later.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping try taking a hot shower before bed. Research has shown that this may trigger sleep.
  • Lastly, if you’re exercising (hopefully you are!) and you’re having difficulties falling asleep, try moving your work-out to earlier in the day.

According to Google, the top foods college students consume are pizza, fries, ramen, chips, and hamburgers. Considering you may be away from home for the first time or you’re in a dorm room, this diet makes sense and it’s tasty. What can you do to eat healthier?