Protect your mental health all winter long with these tips

For many, winter is the best time to be in the High Country. Enjoying a fresh snowfall, racing down the slopes on a pair of skis, and savoring the coziness of a mug of hot cocoa are what mountain winters are made of. However, despite its many virtues, this season also has plenty of difficulties. Longer hours of darkness and freezing winds may drive people indoors rather than out, and many find themselves negatively affected by inconsistent weather conditions and routines.

“Mental health-wise, it can be a very difficult time of year for people,” Director of Counseling Services Marla Gentile said. “Even if you don’t have diagnosable seasonal affective disorder, there are still things that affect everyone; it gets dark early, it’s very cold. People can have a tendency to feel depression. A lot of times the students come into the counseling center and they just have a really hard time getting out of bed in the morning. That is going to affect them academically and socially.”

Because of these mental health risk factors, Gentile said it is extremely important for students to push themselves to make decisions and establish habits that will help them maintain good mental health. She said that maintaining a routine that integrates regular exercise, healthy eating, hydration, stress management techniques, and social interactions is imperative to enjoying the long winter season here in the High Country.

Get Outside

Despite the cold, there are plenty of fun outdoor activities unique to the winter months. Winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and sledding are great ways to make the most of the winter season and give a boost to your mental health through social interaction and exercise.

Lees-McRae has the good fortune of being situated in between two of the region’s top ski and snowboard destinations, Beech Mountain Resort and Sugar Mountain Resort, both of which offer student discounts with valid student ID. Each Tuesday, Beech Mountain Resort also offers $15 night tickets for Lees-McRae students. Gather a group of friends for a night on the slopes and enjoy an activity unique to the mountain winter.

Enjoy Activities Here at Home

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “social connectedness can lead to a longer life, better health, and improved well-being.” Humans are social creatures, and research shows that those with strong social connections are more equipped to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression, three mental health struggles that can be exacerbated by a rough winter.

“Students have a tendency to stay in their room because it feels like hibernation time, but it’s important to get out,” Gentile said. “Even if you don’t want to go outside, there are plenty of activities on campus to be with other people, which is the most important thing.”

The college offers a variety of campus life activities that can help students stay connected with one another throughout these months and therefore better cope with the struggles of the season. Stay up to date on all the events around campus on The Den.

Keep It Moving

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to impact mood and overall mental health. While taking the first step toward exercise can seem daunting, particularly in the colder months, according to the Mayo Clinic exercising has both short- and long-term positive effects on mental health. In the short term, physical movement releases the brain’s feel-good chemical endorphins, and takes the mind off worries, while exercising consistently can boost confidence, facilitate social interaction, and become a healthy coping mechanism for mental health struggles as well as day-to-day issues.

While physical activity is important for a healthy mind and body, exercise can look like any number of activities that feel right for each person. Moving in whatever way feels good for your body and your brain is the most important part.

“At this time of year in particular we tend not to exercise. We may not want to walk down to the SRC because it’s cold, or we may just not feel like doing it because we are hibernating. This is a really important time to exercise in whatever way you can,” Gentile said.

In addition to their traditional exercise facility, the Arthur Student Recreation Complex offers a variety of group fitness classes like spin and weightlifting, while Counseling and Wellness Services offers yoga classes in Evans Auditorium. Group fitness classes are a great way to combine social interaction and exercise for the ultimate mood boost but taking a walk around campus or starting your day with 10 minutes of stretching are also great ways to keep the body moving.

Build Healthy Habits

When it comes to supporting good mental health throughout the winter months, Gentile emphasized the importance of establishing healthy habits. While getting outside, participating in campus life activities, and staying active are essential, there are also small steps each person can take to support themselves through difficult times.

Maintaining a routine is one way Gentile advises students keep themselves motivated. Establishing regular waking and sleeping times, planning for exercise, and maintaining typical mealtimes can give students the structure they need to stay healthy through months that may feel uncertain due to weather conditions and academic rescheduling.

When building this routine, she recommends incorporating daily meditations to ease the mind and positive affirmations to boost self-confidence. Setting an intention, she says, whether that be to accomplish a weekly goal, or to simply enjoy the day, can go a long way toward helping students stay positive.

Take Advantage of On-Campus Resources

Although there are plenty of ways students can keep themselves motivated and mentally healthy throughout the winter season, sometimes these struggles can feel too overwhelming to deal with alone. Counseling and Wellness Services is the best resource for students who need support with any struggle they are facing.

Counseling and Wellness Services holds drop-in hours each week. North Campus drop-in hours are held Mondays and Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m. in the Cannon Student Center. South Campus drop-in hours are held Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. in the Cannon Administration Building. Students are also able to schedule appointments Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.−5 p.m.

Learn more about Counseling Services at Lees-McRae

By Maya JarrellFebruary 19, 2024
Campus Life