This winter, my mental health is my top priority

Will it affect my grades? Maybe, but at least I’ll be happy.

Sometimes you just have to connect with friends.

The winter is, without a doubt, one of the most isolating times of year at the best of times. The frigid weather forces us all indoors and it feels like it starts getting dark as soon as you wake up. Everyone just gets a little sad. This year, to add insult to injury, we’ll also have another semester of online classes keeping us confined within our homes, to say nothing of the pandemic restrictions that are making it difficult to justify doing basically anything.

Every winter I become a hermit in the most literal sense of the word. Even living with three roommates, I hole up in my room, emerging three times a day to eat and, in the past, once to go to class. Coincidentally, every winter I become completely miserable. My breaking point usually comes shortly before the February Study Break, when I’ve been neck-deep in both midterms and snow for a few weeks and, more often than not, the groundhog has predicted six more weeks of winter.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my misery coincides with my relative lack of company in the winter months. If there’s anything we’ve learnt over the past 10 months, it’s that we all need social interaction. Like, actually need it to stay sane.

Unfortunately, our social lives tend to fall by the wayside in the winter because no one wants to leave their house at 9 p.m. when it’s already been dark for five hours. Plus, since the days are short, it feels like there’s less time in the day to do everything you need to.
 

 


But I’d like to argue that in the winter, perhaps more than any other time of year, our social lives should become a priority. Though we may be more limited than usual in the things we can actually do with our friends and family this year, there’s no reason that we can’t get creative and get that much-needed dose of fun.

If you’re anything like me, you may have a tendency to feel guilty for putting your social life, and thus yourself, first. It’s not just us imposing that guilt upon ourselves, either. Everywhere we look we’re being told to study more and work harder—the only problem is that that doesn’t leave a lot of time for us to just laugh. Enjoying life ought to be a priority in the same lane as getting good grades or making money. And though you’ll have to put in the extra effort of getting bundled up and wearing your mask to spend time with your friends this winter, I can guarantee that it’ll be more than worth it.

If there’s one thing I can confidently say that most of us have learned throughout the ebbs and flows of various lockdowns and restrictions over the past 10 months, it’s that socializing can have a major positive influence on our mental health. Unfortunately, like so many other things, we’ve had to learn that lesson the hard way: by witnessing firsthand the seismic impact that not being able to see our friends for weeks or even months can create in our psyches.

I’ve learned that lesson time and time again when I make the choice to sacrifice my social life for the benefit of my grades. But only recently has it been so cemented into my mind for me to actually take it to heart.
 

 


This winter, though I acknowledge that staying on top of my schoolwork is important, I have committed to making myself my own top priority. And sometimes, perhaps to the dismay of my professors, that means accepting a slightly lower grade for choosing to have a movie night with my bubble rather than spend the night cramming for exams.

In spite of this, it’s also completely possible to give school, work, and your own happiness equal amounts of attention. All it requires is a little bit of organization and respect for your own boundaries.

If, like me, the winter is a less-than-ideal time for you, I challenge you to make the commitment to prioritize yourself. Whether that means going tobogganing down Citadel Hill (or a hill wherever you are), having weekly viewings of The Bachelor with your bubble (you can always tell people you like it ironically), or simply staying home and doing absolutely nothing, your mental health is the most important need to satisfy before you worry about the 1,000 other things you could worry about.

If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that we should never take any opportunity to have fun and spend time with loved ones for granted. We never know when everything could change.

 

If you're looking for any mental health support, Dal has a bunch of resources available at dal.ca/mentalhealth.