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Staying Bright During the Dark Season

The end of the semester is always the hardest. Assignments are piling up, deadlines are incoming and if that’s not enough, Christmas is just around the corner. It may seem like you’re running into a brick wall.  

As the days become darker and shorter, it gets more difficult to keep the spring in your step that you had in week one but it’s important to remember that most people feel the same. The desperate sprint towards the end is one of the most stressful parts of the year and it naturally effects your mood.  

According to Mental Health Ireland, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that can result in sleep problems, lack of energy and motivation, social problems, anxiety and a weakened immune system. SAD affects at least one in 15 people. It can be common among students and is more prominent in autumn/winter. Although SAD and end of year stress can be crippling, there are many ways to help beat the holiday blues.  


1. Maximise your exposure to daylight 

In winter whilst in college, you may not get the opportunity to see much natural light. According to Healthline.com, natural light provides many health benefits which will help you to feel fresh and ready to fight another day. As we all know, the sun is a vital source of vitamin D, which helps reduce heart disease and various cancers. It can also help keep mood changes at bay. Although time is of the essence when it comes to college work, it’s important to get outside when you can.  

The HSE recommend that people take vitamin D supplements during winter/autumn as the sun isn’t strong enough for your body to produce vitamin D. You can get vitamin D supplements from almost any health food shop so an investment may be worthwhile if you’re feeling run down.  


2. Exercise 

After a long day in college, exercise may be the last thing you want to do or think of, but it can be essential to maintaining motivation and momentum to see you through the semester. Not only is exercise beneficial physically, but it can also improve your mental health, helps with better sleep and also helps boost energy according to Mayo Clinic. Whether you need to blow off some steam after a stressful day or you just head outside for a brisk walk, physical activity releases various chemicals in your brain which leave you feeling happier and less anxious. 

Exercise also helps your cardiovascular system work better, meaning you will have more energy to juggle everyday tasks. According to the National Sleep Foundation, exercise can also significantly improve your sleeping pattern and a good sleep gives you the basic tools necessary to have a productive day. 


3. A healthy diet 

We have all heard the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and for the most part in couldn’t be more true. Eating a well-balanced and healthy diet including a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, may be the key to improving your mood. Medicalnewstoday.com suggests a high glycaemic diet (refined carbohydrates such as soft drinks, cake, biscuits) may cause increased symptoms of depression and fatigue. 

After a long day of lectures all you may want is a bar of chocolate and going home to cook a nutritious meal might be the least of your worries. A piece of chocolate here and there won’t do any harm, but it’s your breakfast, dinner and lunch that you need to be mindful of. Even adding a bit of fruit and veg here and there will make you feel better in the long run.  


4. Meditation 

Meditation and yoga will help recharge your body and with daily practice, you will feel a lot better. Even if it means taking a 10 minute break from your thoughts to clear the noise in your head and then returning back to the real world, It’s worth it. According to Healthline.com, meditation significantly reduces stress, helps control anxiety, enhances self-awareness and also helps lengthen your Attention Span. Despite the amount of work you may have to plough through, a 10 minute meditation may lengthen the amount of time you are able to study and concentrate on the task in front of you. Also like most points above, meditation is scientifically proven to improve your sleeping pattern.  

Meditation is one of the easiest things to do on this list. You can meditate anywhere, without specialized equipment or a gym membership. Trying any style of meditation is a great way to improve your mental and emotional health.  


5. Relax with friends 

Taking time out of a busy schedule is imperative to avoid a burn out. Taking a quality break is much more productive than staring at a computer screen for hours on end with nothing to show for it. If you can’t take a weekend long break, plan a couple of mornings or afternoons where you’re not going to work or thinking about assignments. Friends are there for you to lean on and won’t mind listening to your worries. They are the best support system to have during your college days and taking time off to chill, go for food or watch a movie can make a huge difference to the way you’re feeling.  


6. Improve your sleeping pattern 

Everything on this list points to sleep. A good night’s sleep is the best thing that will help you get through the day and has a huge influence on your mood. According to Healthline.com, a good sleep can improve concentration and productivity which are both negatively affected by sleep deprivation. It is also known to improve problem-solving skills and enhance memory.  

Healthline.com also advise that poor sleep is linked to depression and affects your ability to interact in social situations. Your sleeping pattern affects so many parts of your body both physically and mentally. Changing your sleeping pattern is easier said than done but It’s near to impossible to achieve ideal health without taking care of your sleep.  

The end of semester push can be soul-crushing. The amount of work you have to do may seem crippling but it’s important to remember in order to work to your full potential, you need to be at your best both mentally and physically. 

If you are struggling with low mood, there are many support systems available for you to turn to. DCU have counselling services available at any time of the year, as do many other colleges, and have specialised workshops available for students who are struggling. As the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved and it might just be the key to getting your mojo back. 

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