Get outside (or bring the outside in!)
Sunlight helps you produce serotonin, so with shorter days, your body gets less of it. It’s no wonder that you’ve got the winter blues.
However, using a light box that mimics sunlight has been proven to help alleviate symptoms of depression. Czarnecki started a program about a year ago through which students can check out a Verilux light box from the W.W. Hagerty Library or the Center for Black Culture. She hopes to get them to different places around the University, too.
“Research has shown over and over again that light boxes are really great for most situations,” Czarnecki said. “It does take some time and consistency, so sometimes a student would see some good responses within a few days of using it, but you should see symptoms improving certainly by two weeks if you’re using it consistently.”
If you use the lamp 30 minutes every day or every other day, especially in the morning, your mood will probably lift quite a bit and you would notice symptoms of depression lessen. Czarnecki said you shouldn’t use it at night or when you’re feeling sleepy, as it might mess with your sleep schedule, but it’s a fairly easy way to try to lift your mood. She’s spoken with students who have used it and vouch for the benefits, and encourages therapists to promote the lightboxes.
Make a plan for winter quarter
Drexel has many academic resources students can tap into, Rebecca Signore, director of the Center for Learning and Academic Success Services (CLASS), said. Tutoring is an obvious choice and good to reach for if you want help in a specific subject. Academic coaching is also available and differs from tutoring in that it focuses on the individual student’s learning strategies, behaviors and skills.
“It gives them a place where they can think about the strategies they’re using and about how they learn and then make a plan to use those strategies, or adjust those strategies for their success,” Signore said. “Coaching can move alongside the student as they go from class to class.”
Students can come in to talk about something specific, like time management or study strategies, while others come back many times a term or year. Each model works well, and it’s about what the student feels they need, Signore said. Students can come in on their own or be referred by an academic adviser, faculty or another member of the Drexel community for an in-person or online appointment.
“I think in the winter, we see students who have learned some lessons from the fall and want to adjust,” Signore said. “Maybe they set some goals and didn’t quite achieve them, and they want to try something different.”
Another service Signore said students can take advantage of is CLASS’s peer academic coaches, who are students trained to do the work of an academic coach. Working with a “near peer” can be valuable, as the peer academic coaches have experienced what it is like to be a student at Drexel and have insight that professional staff might not have.
Finally, Signore recommends making a good old-fashioned long-term plan. There’s a resource on CLASS’s website called “Quarter on a Page” that helps students break down deadlines and visualize the quarter as a whole.
“You can make decisions and prioritize if you have that longer-range view,” Signore said. “You can see when there will be busy weeks and you can work backwards from that deadline in a way that is hopefully not overwhelming for you.”
Move your body, but also, take your rest
Moving your body doesn’t have to mean grinding it out in the Rec Center every day. In the winter, it’s important to keep yourself mobile and some light exercise can help with that. Yoga, a walk on the treadmill, pickup basketball or any other type of movement can help you not only stay warm in the winter, but also give you a boost of happy chemicals, or endorphins.
But winter is also hibernation season, so it’s important to honor your body’s need for rest. Drexel’s Wellness Zone, which opened in June, provides students with a calm atmosphere for decompressing between classes or whenever they want. Czarnecki advocates for a visit every now and then.
Signore said it’s important to account for downtime, even in a busy quarter. Scheduling time for “fun” sounds like the opposite of fun, but you should make sure you reserve time to give your brain a break.
“I think it’s really important that students be looking at their wellness holistically,” Signore said. “There’s no perfect formula for striking a balance with physical, mental, emotional and academic wellness, but trying to strike that balance between time when you’re being productive towards academic goals and time when you’re being good to yourself is really critical.”
Be intentional about those breaks and give your brain a time to settle and get out of “work mode.” Everyone’s attention span has a limit. Be mindful of yours.
“There’s a point where your attention, concentration or motivation might start to wane,” Signore said. “I often find myself talking to students about the importance of getting good quality regular sleep because so much good stuff happens in our brains when we’re sleeping.”
Mask up and take your sick days
Gold said it’s been a busy season with strep throat, influenza and Covid. Hopefully it’s winding down, she said, but there are literally more viruses circulating in the winter.
“There are some viruses whose circulation is very high in the winter period,” Gold said. “That’s just how these bugs are, and we expect to see them more. You’re indoors more around other people who might have those diseases, so there’s more of a chance to catch it.”
Cold weather and the holidays combine to create a perfect environment for diseases to circulate. If you’re feeling sick, stay home.
“We want people to test themselves if they have a respiratory illness and we want people to be using masks,” Gold said.
Recognize when you’re feeling off
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, the most powerful thing you can do is ask for help, Signore said. It can look different — maybe you connect with academic services, friends or family, or maybe you can use the Counseling Center’s day-of services or schedule a more in-depth appointment. But it’s important to realize when you may need help.
“I think asking for help is a really critical skill that we want to start practicing early and it will serve you well throughout your life,” Signore said. “I think if a student finds themselves regularly missing class or if you feel unable to keep up with the amount of homework and assignments they have, where they feel like there’s a pattern where they’re consistently cramming for an exam, those are all signs that you should talk to someone about your patterns. Sometimes students fall into these patterns because they genuinely don’t know what else to do, so having a conversation with another person can help.”
Czarnecki said signs of struggle can be different, especially in Drexel’s diverse student body, but you might not be interested in things you normally would enjoy, feel mentally checked out or have somatic symptoms like chronic stomach pain, headaches or chronic fatigue. It’s important to check in with yourself, because in the thick of a school term, you might not realize you feel off.
“The counseling center tries to have a menu of options for students,” Czarnecki said. “We have same-day appointments and BIPOC drop-in hours with Robia-Smith Hermann, who is our BIPOC specialist. They’re usually about 20 minutes. It’s a no-barrier, easy access way to speak to a therapist.”
Those drop-ins shouldn’t take the place of counseling, and if you find yourself needing those services often, you should find a more in-depth option with the counseling center. There are also group and individual therapy services, as well as crisis services.
Link up with friends
When you’re scheduling your downtime, line it up with your friends’ free time.
“We really encourage students to check in with themselves and their friends,” Gold said. “If they notice something doesn’t seem right, just check in.”
Gold said that total campus health is important. A big lesson she learned during the thick of the pandemic was that everyone is interconnected and how each person is doing plays into how the entire community is doing. Health on campus should be holistic, and Drexel tries to provide enough resources to care for the mental, physical and comprehensive health of students, faculty and staff.
“We’re working hard to make it easier and showcase everything that is there for students,” Gold said. “When someone talks about the college experience, it’s not just about what you learned in the classroom. It extends well beyond the walls of any classroom because for many students it also has to do with venturing out and becoming increasingly independent. Drexel is constructed to support that. We’re not just here to teach in a room, we’re also here to help young adults develop.”
Young adults can also help each other develop, Czarnecki said. The peer helpline has not been in operation since the pandemic started in 2020. It is being reimagined and will be up and running in Spring term to onboard students to serve as trained listeners who will be available to help others through in-person or zoom in Rush B11 and B12.
“This is great for students who are maybe feeling really stressed out and just want to talk to a peer,” Czarnecki said. “These are for concerns where it might be really nice to know that you’re not alone.”