Winter blues: battling low morale

VPEE Student Journalist Neeharika Nene explores the feelings that can often be associated with January and beyond. She shares her tips for combatting feelings of low morale, homesickness and stress.

Coming back to London after the holidays, home seemed even further away. I learnt only a few days into the new term that this was a shared experience. Most people around me were going through the ’January or winter blues’ - a curious condition characterised by a mix of homesickness after Christmas, a lack of motivation, bouts of sadness and a distaste for the dropping temperatures and gloomy evenings. 

Anoushka Kaur Ichpanani, a law student at UCL, remarked, "London can be so overawing, it’s easy to get zoned out. I isolated myself a lot during winter break, which took a toll on my mental health, and the lack of sun didn’t help." 

This was one of the first things I learned about the UK - one tends to constantly bring up the weather. And for good reason, especially during London winters, what with no sunlight for days, gloomy skies, harsh winds and a dark horizon at four in the afternoon. Seasonal depression was a term I had only seen in Instagram memes and online articles; but it seems obvious and natural that weather patterns would influence our mental state.  

"I find it really difficult around this time of year," Laila Strachan, a fellow MA student at UCL admitted. "It gets dark earlier, which for me, makes me feel like I need to sleep at 5 pm! From November (around Thanksgiving) to New Year’s Day, I am mostly with family or doing celebratory things with friends, which is great, but this is not my normal routine that helps my mental health. When January comes around, the high disappears and reality sets in, and it can be hard to start again." 

I agreed completely, and felt the desperate need to hit ’reset’ with something that would get me out of the rut I was in. That was how I found myself at the threshold of an experience I had always feared - going to an event alone. I picked out two things from UCL Student Support and Wellbeing’s Beat the January Blues Campaign, one that I’d never tried before and another that usually appealed to me. 

I walked into the first, the Gong Siesta Sound Bath (led by the lovely and enigmatic Jarvia Foxter), not knowing what to expect, and doubly suspicious at the prospect of lying down on a yoga mat for thirty minutes. All I knew from skimming the website was that the gong’s frequencies create a state of relaxation and vibrational healing. But as we got started, I found myself letting go of the biggest barrier in my mind - the worry that this would not work. The constant inner monologue, along with its anxieties and apprehensions, was put to rest for those thirty minutes. 

The more daunting of the two events, however, turned out to be the Comedy Night. This was clearly a social event, and everyone in attendance had come in a group. It felt awkward at first, but I got myself a pilsner, and decided to make the most of it. What followed was an evening of laughs, at the end of which the girl sitting next to me struck up a conversation and said she applauded the fact that I had come alone. A brief encounter like that is sometimes enough to remind you that despite all the things you can’t control, it’s what you do for yourself that makes the biggest difference. And, for the most part, no one cares that you showed up alone to a social event. 

I came out of that experience feeling so much better, that I decided to put down a list of things that help me and other UCL students make time and space for ourselves during an emotionally challenging time. Student Support and Wellbeing (SSW) are running similar events during the Exam Season and I have linked them too. 

Mindfulness or spirituality

I’ve seen these words float around the internet, often with vague and unclear meanings attached to them. But that’s perhaps for the best, because they can look like different things to different people - whether you believe in a religion, meditation, tarot readings, journaling, or anything else that brings you inner comfort. What has helped me is carving out space for it in my everyday routine, even if just for ten minutes at the end of a long and stressful day. 

Long walks

They’re not for everyone, given that the cold weather plays a big role in worsening loneliness. But medical experts recommend walks in winter as a form of exercise and improving your mood. I’ve noticed a big shift in my energy even after a walk as short as twenty minutes. Just be sure to bundle up well. 

A change of scenery

Too much time spent working, studying, or even relaxing in one place is bound to feel stagnating and suffocating. I’ve started planning my days to accommodate a change of pace so that I never spend more than a couple of hours at a desk. UCL students are lucky enough to have multiple libraries and cafes at short walking distances - you won’t run out of new locations to try.  

Socialising and exploring

"I would recommend spending time around children and toddlers," Anoushka suggests. "It truly just fills you with so much hope. I led a university tour for some year eight students and it was refreshing seeing them full of life despite the dreariness." With many others going through the same thing this time of year, socialisation and engaging in new activities can lift everyone’s morale. "I was somewhat sad when I left home and my family because I knew I was going to be gone for quite a while, yet at the same time I was also extremely excited to live in a city like London and study here," Irem said. "I’ve been trying to recharge by either exploring more parts of London, meeting up with friends or exercising in the gym." 

Try something new whether it’s Dancing, Salsa, Musical Theatre or Circus Skills SU Society Tasters.

Go easy on your self  

Phil Dunphy from Modern Family once said, "The most amazing things that can happen to a human being will happen to you if you just lower your expectations". Of course, that was in jest. But expecting regular productivity levels during an emotionally difficult period is unrealistic. It’s okay to need more frequent breaks, work out a little less, or take longer than usual to finish tasks. "Allowing myself to rest and listening to my body without guilt has really helped," Laila said. You’ll only get your groove back if you take the unwarranted pressure off. 

Finally, if you ever need a little extra pick-me-up, some on-campus entertainment or relaxation, UCL Student Support and Wellbeing has exciting events lined up throughout the year, especially during Exam Season  for students to enjoy.  

Partcicular highlights include  Free Drinks Tokens , Therapy Dogs Wellbeing Alpacas.

About the author: Neeharika Nene

I’m a postgraduate digital media student, cat mom and horror film fanatic. Born and raised in Mumbai, India, I became passionate about writing and journalism after interning at organisations like The Quint and working as an editorial assistant at Springtide, a youth-culture and lifestyle magazine.

Professionally and academically, I lean towards writing about film, music, pop culture, gender, and identity. UCL’s lively ecosystem, within an even more vibrant London has no shortage of stories to tell. So, I’m excited to take on the role of student journalist explore the city and university I’ve come to love in greater depth! 
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