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With more than 30 inches of snowfall this January, many students facing papers and finals found themselves buried--and depressed--by the winter weather conditions.
With more snow likely before spring, the key to surviving the next several months may be in the attitude, experts say.
According to Dr. Randolph Catlin, chief of Mental Health at University Health Services (UHS), a person's reaction to the weather will depend on his or her expectations.
"Some will say that there is less light and less opportunities [in the winter]. They see it as a restriction," says Catlin. "Other people say they can go skiing and 'I don't have so many other things that demand my time.'"
Even some students from warmer climates have learned to appreciate New England's winter wonderland.
"The extreme temperatures are changed, but overall it's not that hard to get used to," says Aaron P. Easterly '99 from California. "It feels like a never-ending skiing trip."
Many others, though, say the never-ending gray skies and blanket of white snow have taken their toll. For some, the weather can even lead to serious mental health problems, Catlin says.
"For a great many people, the reduced daylight and restrictions in terms of activities is a cause of depression," Catlin says. "Some people have seasonal affective disorders."
Seasonal affective disorders involve depression and other mental and emotional difficulties brought on by the deprivation of light in the winter months.
"The theory is that the light that is transmitted back through the retina causes the production of melatonin," says Catlin. "There is some feeling, although it is not proven, that melatonin can sometimes counteract depression."
The reduction in light, then, leads to a decrease in melatonin production and possibly and increase in depression.
In addition, Catlin says that when students put away the roller blades and surfboards, a lack of exercise can contribute to the "winter blues." Endorphins, the source of the body's natural "highs," are produced during exercise.
For students who live far from the Yard, the winter weather, combined with the distance, is easily a source of discontent.
"It's depressing and inconvenient," says Thomas J. Roberts '98, a resident of Pforzheimer. "In the winter when it's really cold, you have to rely on the shuttle exclusively, but when the weather is bad, the shuttle gets more irregular."
"Sometimes you wait around and wait around only to figure out that you've missed the shuttle," he says. "Then you really have to walk."
But not all students from the Quad find the snow a difficulty.
"I like the snow," says Danny B. Yang '98, also a resident of Pforzheimer. "I usually walk. It's usually not bad because it's well shoveled."
Weather-related effects are not the only factors involved with the winter gloom. After all, the gray skies are accompanied by the end-of-semester blues.
"With the fact that winter falls [at a certain time] in the academic year with winter exams, it is quite often a down time for people," says Catlin. "[UHS] sees [its] share of people because of their concerns at exam time.
But some students see advantages to nature's forced confinement.
"I think the finals in a way are complementary to the situation," says Julia A. Hunter '96. "You are forced inside to study."
"It's more depressing in the spring when you look outside and see the good weather while you are stuck inside studying," she says.
In addition to the academic concerns, Catlin points to the passing of the holiday season as a possible factor in winter depression.
"There is a letdown after [the holidays]," he says. "People tend to anticipate [the holidays] with all the hype, and then after it is over with, [there is nothing to take its place]."
Catlin suggests a regular exercise routine and an overall feeling of optimism to help students combat the winter blues and survive their academic and weather-related obstacles.
"The only way is to try to think about what it is in winter which contains opportunities which you don't find in the summer," Catlin says. "People don't always appreciate the changing seasons. It a source of satisfaction to have this type of contrast."
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