There’s nothing sexy about the winter slump. At this point in the year everything feels old. The winter feels like it has been with us for a decade and the end isn’t yet in sight. Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, and Valentines Day have all passed and left us struggling to find the next thing to look forward to. With the vernal equinox only a month away, it feels like winter should be over by now. But we know better. We (the rugged New-Englander) know that March is January with false hopes of blooming flowers. For many of us on the academic calendar, the “next thing” arrives mid march: Spring break. This golden week of opportunity has many of us scouring the web for the latest airline “get away deals”. Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue offer the solution to the February funk: buy that airplane ticket to Key West, strip down and expose your sun deprived new-years-resolution-slimbeachbody to Florida’s rays. Indeed, Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression, or depression like symptoms in numerous studies. However, a week in the sun does little or nothing to alter a person’s vitamin D levels. You need a (minimum) month long retreat to Cost Rica in order to do that. Oh, and make sure you leave your sunscreen at home. That’s right–most sunscreens (regardless of strength) prohibit the body from converting sunlight to vitamin D by 95%. Worried about getting enough vitamin D while avoiding skin cancer and sunburns? I am too. The solution could be as simple as a vitamin D supplement. A small test was recently conducted with females who displayed depression-like symptoms and were vitamin D deficient. After taking an oral vitamin D supplements for 12 weeks, each woman reported feeling markedly better. However, for many of us 12 weeks feels like eternity and a trip to Bermuda for sun is a lot nicer than a trip to the local drugstore for vitamin D supplements.
After an energetic start to my winter, I quickly began to lose steam. My routine felt less like comfort and more like a trap at the beginning of January. Lucky for me, my two little cousins live in Palm Beach, Florida and were both having their Bar Mitzvahs (a Bineh mitzvah). After week in the sun I came back to school refreshed and excited ready to dig into my schoolwork. Slightly tanned, well rested, and loaded with stories of my extended family at a party with an open bar, a DJ and professional dancers, suddenly made college life in wintry New England conquerable and—dare I say it? –Fun. I guess the bottom line is that a week in the sun had me feeling sexy again. Or so I thought. Now, at the end of February with three weeks until spring break (March 14th!), the clocks on the lecture hall wall tick slower and slower. The day starts with multiple outfits on and then off, and the gym is one long plateau. The coveted “get away spring vacation” may not scientifically change our levels of Vitamin D, but it sure is a nice placebo.
If the increase of vitamin D doesn’t affect our moods when we skip away to the southern hemisphere, why the momentous change in mood? In Florida, I ran outside, played fetch with my cousin’s dog, and hung out with my brother. Sure, the warm temperatures helped my mood, but the change in my routine saved it. Perhaps a more sustainable solution to a weary winter than a get away vacation requires a bit more reflection and planning. Switch up your routine, go to the gym at a different time and see different people. Try a new recipe. Hell, get risky with it—ask someone out on a date. Already have a date? Go to a book reading, take a quick road trip, or switch things up in bed.
What if I have a great routine, and I am a strong independent person and don’t need or want a date? My question to you is: when did you last volunteer? It’s easy to slip into a selfish slump in the winter and forget how good it feels to make other people smile. This can manifest in volunteering at a soup kitchen, cleaning out your closet and donating old clothes, holding the door for someone, or smiling and saying “thanks” when someone holds the door for you.
I work the dinner shift in the dining hall at school. When we open, there’s usually a sad, dripping pile of dirty dishes waiting for me. Since the beginning of February, a note with torn and slightly soggy edges always mysteriously appears on the stack—sometimes even while I am working—that says, “Thank you J Have a great evening!” While it’s easy for me to moodily spray the chunky dining hall meal off of plate after plate, this note serves as a reminder of the power of consistent friendliness and gratitude. I try to pass this person’s positivity on with small, smiley human interactions during my shift. I’ve stopped being surprised when I finish work feeling better than when I started. As we end February and move into March, I urge you to plan something to look forward to. Whether that’s a get away vacation, coffee with a friend, or even a short (bundled) walk outside, not only will it break up the (nearly over!) winter doldrums, but it may carry enough positive inertia to spread smiles and gratitude to the people around you. “Thank you J (for reading) Have a great [Day]!”