December has finally arrived, and winter break is right around the corner! New Yorkers are all preparing mentally for winter, as we know just how bad the snowstorms can get. New York is known for its brutal winters, as the state has the highest average snowfall in the US. While I’m not originally from New York, I have lived in upstate New York for 11 years. I’ve definitely had my fair share of winter struggles — plowing the driveway, walking through knee-high snow, shuddering through below-freezing temperatures, high winds, hail, icy roads, road accidents, frozen windshield wipers, not to mention carrying around tons of winter gear.

While us New Yorkers know what to expect, the majority of people who aren’t from snowy states tend to look forward to winter because they are excited to see it see snow for the first time, and they expect it to be just like the countless holiday movies and songs that portray winter as “the most wonderful time of the year” or a “winter wonderland.” And while there are fun aspects of winter, like seeing the snow glisten on the trees, building snowmen, skiing, ice skating, drinking hot chocolate, watching movies with friends, and having snowball fights, there are also negative aspects of winter that I think should be discussed more openly and frequently.

Many people struggle to get up and go to class in the winter because of the lack of sunlight which decreases their energy; and for some, this can severely affect their everyday lives. They begin oversleeping, losing interest in doing activities, feeling sad nearly every day, having low energy, craving carbohydrates, overeating, experiencing difficulties with concentration, and feeling an overall sense of hopelessness. Feeling this way from December to February can make it very difficult for students to do well academically and be productive. The official name for feeling like this is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

SAD is a very real struggle that many face, but it especially affects people that aren’t used to low sunlight. For students who come from warmer parts of the world and have never experienced winter in Rochester, they can come unprepared to face the struggles that winter brings, like below-freezing temperatures and mental health struggles. Even people who haven’t had any mental health issues in the past can experience SAD during the winter, and many don’t know how to combat this sudden change in their energy levels and mood.

I grew up in Peru where it’s warm and sunny for most of the year. Our “winter” was referred to as the rainy season, and the temperature would drop to the 60s or low 50s at most. Moving to the United States was a huge change for me, and through that experience, I have some suggestions on how to prepare for the winter if this is your first time experiencing winter in Rochester. One is making sure you have all of the necessary items like a winter jacket, boots, hat, and gloves. Winter jackets can be expensive, but they are a necessary investment, especially for college students, as we have to walk to get around campus. Some well-known brands that will last you for more than four years are Colombia, Eddie Bauer, Patagonia, and the North Face. The quality of boots depends on what you plan on doing in the winter — actual winter boots can be pricey, but if you want to go sledding, tubing, or participate in other winter activities, investing in winter boots is a good idea.

While these essentials are very important to have, taking care of your mental health is just as important. Some suggestions on how to combat SAD during the winter is by reaching out to friends because, more likely than not, your friends might be going through the same thing. Keeping an eye out for your friends is a good idea too, as it can be hard for people to reach out and get help. Another suggestion is to book an appointment with a therapist there are great ones in Rochester and the University also has its own counseling center called UCC, you can make an appointment online and go to their office right on campus. 

Another great way to combat SAD is by taking a break from studying to get outside and enjoy winter activities. For example, there is an ice skating rink located in the Genesee River Valley Sports Complex, which is a 13-15 minute walk from campus, and you can go ice skating with friends for a discounted price with your UR ID. There is also a Winterfest to look forward to after winter break, where there are indoor and outdoor activities for a whole weekend, and there is even ice skating on campus. Doing fun winter activities will help raise your mood!

My last suggestion is to get a lightbox that mimics natural sunlight, which can help increase your energy and uplift your mood. The best lightboxes have an exposure of 10,000 lux, and there are several of them on Amazon. I find that it helps the most when you use it for 20-30 minutes after you wake up.

While winter can be dreary and its movie-like charm may dissipate quickly, enjoying the good days and the fun aspects of winter helps it go by faster, as well as helping us appreciate summer and spring more when they finally arrive.

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