When I first left the warm Caribbean climate of my native Trinidad & Tobago to study abroad, people kept asking me variations of the same question: “Mattieu, why on Earth are you leaving the gorgeous tropics for the frigid temperate world?”
During my very first winter, which was spent in Canada, a.k.a. The Arctic, Part II, I asked myself the same question several times a day.
Indeed, no matter where you are from, or what part of the north you are in, temperate winters can be very unpleasant. Brighton is often purported as being one of the most weather-agreeable places in the UK, and yet Brightonians are hardly immune to the moist dark gloom of the coldest season.
In particular, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can make winter days particularly glum. However, life (classes, exams, jobs, etc), must go on. Even so, keeping healthy, happy and productive during the winter months is often easier said than done.
Thankfully, I have turned my winter wounds into wisdom. Having been through the better part of EIGHT winters has helped me to develop some simple and effective approaches to beating SAD:
i). Mind Over Matter: Numerous studies have shown that the brain has an amazing capacity to heal and change itself. When it comes to winter, putting a positive spin on things can make your days way more enjoyable. For instance, I often imagine the clouds on a gloomy day as giant fluffy comforters placed in the sky to keep the world warm. I see the rain as an excellent background noise to aid in my studies and the cold weather as an excuse to experiment with fashion, for example. Note well, though: convincing yourself requires a little bit of imagination and a positive outlook.
ii). Keep Yourself Healthy: Keeping physically and mentally alert during the winter is not as hard as you might think. The key is to understand how the body and mind work, and take steps to counteract conditions conducive to SAD. Try to keep your surroundings brighter by investing in a daylight simulating lamp. Eat foods that give you energy and help keep you warm. Try to get some exercise; even if it’s too cold for you outside, there are many simple exercises that you can do from the comfort of your own room. Supplement these by dressing right, keeping good sleep hygiene and boosting your immune system, and your days will brighten up long before the arrival of Spring.
iii) Do Stuff (with People): Sure, the temptation to stay indoors is great on a grey winter day. But many studies have shown that too much time indoors and in solitude can have adverse effects on mood, energy levels and ultimately on mental health. Winter may not be the time for a barbeque on the seafront, but there is definitely a lot to do, particularly in Brighton. Rustle together some people for a night of ice-skating, winter market-roving, or dinner at one of many new restaurants that seem to pop up. Being outdoors and being around people are crucial to having an enjoyable winter.
The most important thing, though, is to find some combination of the above things that works for you, and to keep vigilant. If you do these things, I’m sure you will be able to turn your winter frown upside down!
Mattieu Dominic Ramsawak is a doctoral researcher in Anthropology, and is also the Communications & Engagement Officer at the School of Global Studies.
Featured image: Mitya Ku via Flickr