February. You’ve only been here for one week, and I can’t wait to see the end of you. While I have embraced the beauty of the north, including its ever-white snow banks, just once I would love to wake up and see that the sun has already greeted the horizon. Instead, I stumble in the dark to the coffee pot, groggily head to the discussion boards, and scowl at the sun’s unfashionably late arrival (nice of you to show up, buddy). The winter blahs can be all-consuming, particularly if you’ve acclimatized to the responsibilities of being a grad student and the assignments begin to grate on your nerves.
Since I personally won’t be jet-setting somewhere with white sand and turquoise waters to stockpile some vitamin D (and good on you if you are), I’ve developed a few coping strategies to help bide away the cold and the dark.
- Exercise – this one sounds pretty obvious, but if my circle of friends at the graduate level is any indication, it’s easier said than done. Every week, I vow to hit the gym a minimum of three times; every week, I usually fail to meet my own lofty expectations. How could I possibly think about taking the time to lift weights when I have a million posts to read/write?! But the thing is, every time I go, I feel great. My confidence goes up, I’m inspired to eat healthier, and my focus improves. It’s worth the investment of time to take care of your body, even if it’s just 15 minutes of stretching after a long writing session.
- If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – one of the things about living in this magnificent country is that we get snow, and depending on where you live, you might get heaps. Storm systems moving in over Georgian Bay and Lake Nipissing result in weekly snow pileups; so why not embrace it? Today I plan on getting in a nice day of cross-country skiing, followed by a cup of hot chocolate. Although I have plenty of school related work to do, it’s important not to get tunnel-vision, because there’s always more to do. To that end, I’m choosing to prioritize winter activities. Other activities to check out are snowshoeing, skating, maple syrup festivals (coming up soon!), tobogganing, snowman building, collect some pine cones for some DIY decorations, winter hiking, playing/watching hockey, ice fishing, drinking mulled cider under a blanket with a good book or movie.
- Treat yourself – if you’re the typical type-A grad student, you may be balancing your studies with a million other things, including jobs, families, hobbies, community commitments, and so on. When was the last time you did something small for yourself? In the past, I’ve experienced feelings of guilt when I treated myself to something nice that I wanted, but not necessarily needed. But here’s the thing: you work hard. You’re pushing yourself. Treat yourself to something as a thank you gift. Make yourself a nice dinner. Book a massage. Get a magazine subscription. Upgrade your coffee to a latte. Go see a movie. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it does have to be intentional.
- Make time for friends – this is something else I’m really working on. Just one hour of a good chat with my friends and my soul feels lighter. However, this is often one of the first things to go (along with exercise) when my commitments start ramping up. Even if I’m skyping with someone who lives far away (a good friend of mine is in the Yukon), it feels good to break out of the work-school-eat-sleep-repeat mentality. Life’s short, and it should be filled with as much laughter as possible.
- Combine all of the above! Partner up with your friends for some exercise accountability, go skating with your partner/kids, indulge in a day on the slopes with your nearest and dearest. One of my favourite winter memories was finding a small indoor farmer’s market near an ice rink, and toddling around with my friends before heading inside to warm up with locally made goodies. Each city/town has events to go check out, round up the family and friends and make it an adventure.
This list is how I manage to cope, but I’d love to hear how my fellow grad students deal with the winter blahs. Leave a comment below and share your tips, tricks, and ideas 🙂