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A girl sits with flowers and picnic foods on a blanket outside.
A girl sits with flowers and picnic foods on a blanket outside.
Original photo by Priscella Yun
Life > Experiences

The UCLA Quarter System Validates My Seasonal Depression

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Whether your campus affiliation lies to the North or to the South, your classmanship stands upper or lower or your hometown falls from mere minutes away to across the world, if you are a true Bruin, you will inevitably come to despise UCLA’s one universal nemesis: Winter Quarter. 

Two girls stand in UCLA merch at a UCLA football game.
Original photo by Ariana Stanton

Fall is defined by a crisp golden hour reflecting off the red brick, the explosive school spirit of football season and the novelty of a lovely year to come, while spring is colored pastel by the blossoming flowers across campus and the hues of formal dresses. Sandwiched directly in between is the wasteland we call winter — the subject of this rant. Coming out of the grave of the holiday season passed, plagued by New Year’s resolutions already forgotten, our students trek back to Westwood for those dreary ten weeks from January to March. The months are defined by study rooms so flushed with people you can hardly sit down, weekends that are no longer broken up by the novelty of Fall events and a gray (and now apparently rainy) Los Angeles sky, to top it all off. To put it as eloquently as possible, Winter Quarter sucks. 

Now two years into my college experience, I can confidently say that I have felt the weight of winter upon my shoulders. Before all the out-of-staters begin rolling their eyes at my inability to deal with seasonal changes (that are mild at best), let me tell you that this pessimistic manifesto most certainly has a point. 

I love UCLA with my whole heart. I feel that our little campus is a place that has allowed me to expand my relationships, passions and academic interests to a breadth I never dreamed possible, yet I cannot help but feel deflated the moment I begin the second quarter of the year. My anxiety levels seem to peak while my social calendar plummets, leaving me feeling a complicated mixture of over and under-whelmed. 

At first, upon noticing this pattern, I simply chalked it up to the anecdotal circumstances of my own life narrative. Nothing is wrong with Winter Quarter — there must just always have been something wrong with my life as it happens to exist during Winter Quarter. As I reconnected with more and more of my friends at the onset of Spring this past April, the anecdotal evidence seemed a little too strong to ignore. I started playing a little game of informal research, asking everyone I could in some way or another how their winter had compared to other quarters on campus. Never in my life have I struck up passionate conversations more easily. The lore around Winter Quarter’s evil sorcery grew thicker, with each student seeming to hold their own specific story as to the particularity of why.

As soon as the high of getting some emotional validation wore off, I began to do a little more research about seasonal mood correlation. While I won’t sit here and pretend that I’m making some unheard-of breakthrough by offering up the term “Seasonal Depression,”  I will say that it is more closely intertwined with the experience of college students than I had ever thought before. 

Research has clearly documented that decreased sunlight exposure, decreased exercise, decreased social activity and increased stress levels are all factors that closely influence mood deflation. UCLA Psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Kang explains the unique hypothesis that because Southern California college students live in what’s popularly regarded as “great weather,” we are much less likely to internally recognize the significance of these environmental changes. Essentially, UCLA students are constantly gaslighting themselves into thinking we can’t be affected by the weather, making the effect of the weather worse, in turn. 

Neon green Brain Dead sign inside an outline of someone\'s side profile, hung on a wall.
Original photo by Amelia Boeh

I think it’s important to note in this conversation about mental health that while anyone can experience mood changes that are influenced by their physical, social or academic environment, the formal diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (colloquially “Seasonal Depression”) is not to be thrown around lightly. Mental health is a spectrum, and one of the foremost ways we can support one another is by recognizing the distinction between diagnosis and everyday hyperbolic language. 

The collegiate lifestyle is one that is particularly vulnerable to stress, so it makes perfect sense that any negative stimuli would only exacerbate an existing phenomenon. The combination of dreary weather, a lesser degree of organized sporting or social events and no long break in sight is a perfect recipe for The Inevitable and Spectacular Winter Quarter Flop Era.

Although nearly a year away, I promise she will sneak up on you a little too quickly! I also promise that no matter the hurdle, no matter the season, you will make it out okay. This next winter, I challenge you to give yourself a little more grace, patience and affirmation. We all need a little self-hug to make it through the LA cold.

Claire Smith is an Orange County local studying Human Biology and Society at UCLA. Claire loves to read, try new coffee places, and spend time outdoors with friends.