An international student’s guide on how to beat winter blues

International student Oliva shares how she has been trying to get over her winter blues by implementing daily habits and using resources provided by RGU.

Have you been feeling low and have a general loss of energy now that the days have been shorter and darker? I have! I’m suffering from the so-called “winter blues” or SAD (which is definitely an appropriate acronym for “seasonal affective disorder”).

I’m Oliva, and I moved from Mexico to Aberdeen early this year. This is my first autumn/winter in a country so North of the globe. I was warned by many friends that coming from a Southern and warmer country, I could encounter the “winter blues”. Hence, I prepared myself as best as I could, and I would like to share some advice with you so that we can get through this cloudy winter together!

But before anything, it’s essential to seek the help of a professional because SAD symptoms are very similar to depression symptoms, and we should never self-diagnose. Especially coming from overseas, we may face homesickness or other mental health disorders that should not be mistaken for SAD symptoms. I want to emphasise that the content of this blog entry doesn’t intend to work as a diagnosis. It’s my personal experience, and if you feel you may be struggling as well, please seek help because SAD can be treated.

My winter blues experience

Before Daylight Saving Time ended, I enjoyed being outdoors, walking, going to the gym, singing, and my sleeping cycle was 8 hours-long. At the start of November I got the flu, so I decided to stay home for a faster recovery. However, this kept me from getting sunlight and fresh air, as well as enjoying things that kept me active.

After I recovered from the flu, I was feeling low. I wasn’t excited about returning to my usual activities and started sleeping up to 12 hours, which was unusual for me. It became a cycle where by the time I was out of my flat, the sun would start to set, and I would get sleepy and sad.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I had prepared for this. I spoke to a counsellor about how I had been feeling. I won’t lie, it’s not always so simple to find the motivation for beating the winter blues, but if you break just a small cycle step, it becomes easier.

Some tips to feel better

According to the NHS, winter blues are thought to be caused mainly to the way our bodies respond to sunlight. Sunlight stops the production of melatonin, which is a sleeping hormone. With less light comes more melatonin, which makes us sleep for longer. Other factors, like an unhealthy diet or lack of exercise, can make us feel low as well. So check on your usual routine and try to identify if there have been any changes related to the season.

What was recommended to me to beat the winter blues? First, I bought Vitamin D3, which our bodies produce when we are exposed to sunlight. Even with this supplement, I’ve been trying to get out and catch as much natural light as possible, even if the sun is out for only a few minutes on a cloudy day. If you are home or even at the RGU library, try sitting next to a window where you are more exposed to sunlight.

The second thing was to keep very active. I used to exercise a few times a week, and now I’ve been exercising daily. You can choose whatever activity makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be a high-performance workout. Just be more active than usual to produce happy hormones and help your mind and body feel better. 

My counsellor additionally advised that I purchase a SAD Lamp for light therapy. This lamp emits a very bright white light that emulates the sunlight. I put it next to my bed and turn it on for 15 minutes when I wake up, and it has been effective for me because my sleep cycle has been going back to normal!

Alongside this advice, I’ve been going out with my friends and taking up hobbies that keep me motivated. Even if it’s for a little while, give yourself a chance to perform activities that make you happy.

RGU resources

I would like to finish this blog by sharing with you some of the resources that are available to us as RGU students and that may help you beat the winter blues! You can contact RGU Peer Support, a student-led group who have attended mental health and well-being-related training. You can also contact Counselling and Wellbeing services through ASK RGU, which offer up to 6 counselling sessions per academic year.

Finally, remember RGU SPORT offers free memberships to students. They have a variety of classes and activities, so even if you just want to take Relaxing Yoga and Body Balance classes like me, it will make a difference and help you keep active.

I wish you all a nice end of the year, and I hope this entry will inspire you to seek help and beat the winter blues. You are not alone!

Oliva Sanchez Montesinos

Related blogs

How support at RGU helped me settle in after moving from Mexico

How do I manage my stress while studying at RGU?

My Mental Health Journey at RGU

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