Erin McDaniel ’15
Assistant Opinions Editor
For many, the arrival of winter in New England is a welcome delight – hot chocolate, rosy cheeks, snow angels – but, by February, or earlier, the season has become little more than a depressing, near-interminable period of time defined by frigid temperatures, minimal sunlight and intense cabin fever. The final February-March stretch to second semester midterms and spring break feels like the ultimate trudge through life: what was once a winter wonderland feels, by now, like a winter minefield through which all must pass in order to access the warmth, sunlight and joy that surely awaits on the other side.
In short, February sucks. Most people feel stuck, overwhelmed and seasonally depressed, which leads to their being generally unpleasant and vaguely insufferable to those in their surroundings, feeding into the already-low moods of people everywhere. That, of course, is the vicious cycle of the season – the reason these months make life feel so utterly stagnant and unrewarding – and the reason many Northeasterners are so incredibly quick to pounce on the very first signs of spring in shorts, sundresses and smiles.
Until nature’s remedy – spring – arrives though, we’re all stuck here, mid-winter, with no idea of how long we will have to wait for our temperate relief. At a time like this, what’s a Smithie to do?
Change. Period. That’s the key to making it through the coming month – or more, if we’re unlucky this year – and starting spring happy and healthy. Change something. Change anything, really. Just don’t stay in the wintery rut into which you are sinking deeper even as you read this.
Clean something. I’ll concede, here, that spring cleaning or pre-spring cleaning is a cliché, but I’ll also argue that clichéd sentiments often become clichéd simply because they’re so true that people regurgitate them over and over. Cleaning a space is one of the easiest ways to trick your brain into thinking you’re in a new and better environment. For many, it’s also a cathartic act in and of itself.
So, that pile of junk you’ve accumulated under your bed, on your desk, or in your closet? Take 20 minutes – or more, if you’ve really let yourself go – and sort through it. That growing mass of objects in the trunk of your car? Get it out of there. Clear your backseat so that, when the seasons change, your friends can squeeze in and head off to warm weather fun with you. Make some method out of your mess.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to dig through piles of long-irrelevant paper and long-unclean laundry just to find your keys first thing in the morning? And don’t you miss the feeling of being able to walk around your room without a perpetual fear that you’ll sprain your ankle on your own possessions, now strewn about the floor? Exactly. So make some method out of your mess. Suck it up and clean it up.
Try something new. It can be externally projected – a haircut, a new pair of kicks, a new lipstick – or internally minted: a different study locale, dining hall or route back to your house at the end of the day. Your new look or activity doesn’t need to be an extreme departure from your personal norms, but, for your own sanity, it should resonate with you. You need to reassure your own heart and mind that better days are on the horizon and that, like this new part of your life, a different set of realities awaits you in the near future.
That sentiment is really the crux of this winter-blues remedy: change something small now so that, when the changes inherent to the spring season finally arrive, you’re mentally prepared to experience them fully. The alternative – feeling burned out to the point that you don’t end up enjoying the bulk of the season that happens in the final month of second semester – is a common and unfortunate symptom of winter maladies, like cabin fever and burned-out blues, that go untreated for too long.
Much of the reason winter makes life feel so miserable for a few months each year is that the season’s extended absence of warmth and significant sunlight inflicts a terrible feeling onto its many victims: the sense of being trapped – in a freezer, no less. Unfortunately, the freezer of winter is one that none of us can escape until late March or early April. Of that much, alas, we can be sure, so there is only one alternative: forcing open the freezer door and re-exposing ourselves to the outside world, even if we have to stay in the freezer until further notice. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be stuck in an open freezer than a closed one any day – or any season.
So make a change, or several. Clean up your surroundings and then feel yourself relax into your living environment – as opposed to your current nightly collapse back into a dark, messy lair – at the end of each day. Switch up your daily routine and then feel yourself walk with a new bounce in your step – as opposed to the feet-dragging trudge you currently employ – around campus and all the way downtown to experience the world outside of Smith for the first time in weeks. Brace for the sunshine and warmth coming in a few short weeks. Smile.
Take a deep breath and throw open the freezer door.