Thursday, January 10, 2013

How to be happy, even though it's January

Speaking of painful dichotomies, that’s what it felt like when I returned from vacationing in Orlando, Florida to the second day of classes at UTSC. The sparkly, magical collages of castles and anthropomorphic mice and wands and pumpkin carriages that filled my dreams turned into the dry, grey doldrums of university life. This is what heartbreak feels like.

Winter sucks. We all know it. It overstays its welcome past about New Year’s, like your friend who wants to stay over while he finds a new place. It’s fun for the first few weeks, and then, you know. The cheery Christmas lights are taken down and replaced by slush and brown snow, and the cold and the dimness become so oppressive that they sort of penetrate your subconscious, casting a mild but noticeable gloom over your every thought. Then by March, winter is promising to move out any day now, and in the meantime he’s leaving puddles of slipped milk in the fridge and burning holes in your ironing board. His influence never truly leaves until mid- or late-April, when your raincoat finally dries.

I suffer, I think, from a weak form of seasonal affective disorder, a depressive state brought about by the low light of winter months. I’m sure that this is pretty common. Have you ever felt a surge of sudden optimism in your life in the first bright sunny day at the end of winter, a feeling that everything is going to be OK, a lifting of some dark smog that’s been clouding your mind, a renewing of the pleasure you get from banal things like studying? If not, I, and all the other people with the winter blues, envy you.

Here are my tips for coping during the worst months of the year.

1. Get light
Light therapy is a genuine treatment for seasonal affective disorder. You, basically, shine light from a lamp at your face as often as necessary, which in theory makes up for the lost sunlight experienced during winter. UV light can cause skin and eye damage, however, so you can use special light boxes made for seasonal affective disorder that filter out the UV light.

2. Wake Up Early
Benjamin Franklin said that “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I’m not sure about that, but it increases your exposure to genuine sunlight, which is much more effective for improving mood than artificial light is. It’ll also make you feel more productive—finishing all your work with the sun still up is a good feeling.

3. Exercise
Exercise releases endorphins, which bring you pleasure. It can also make you, cocooned in your bulky coats and sweaters for months, feel good about your body.

4. Escape
Great entertainers and writers for thousands of years have recognized the necessity and nobility of a temporary escape, whether by playing a great videogame, reading a great book, or watching a great television show. Facebook doesn’t count; find something that captures your full attention. If you find yourself feeling low, sink into a new hobby—you’ll emerge contented and perhaps enriched with something that will help you tackle real life.

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