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As Winter Dampens Students’ Moods, Harvard Experts Offer Advice

By Ryan Park-Chan, Contributing Writer

As temperatures remain below freezing and piles of dirty snow line campus pathways, some Harvard students have found their social and academic habits adversely affected while others have come up with creative ways to cope with the winter blues.

Freshman Joel I. Beazer ’18, originally from Antigua where temperatures hover around 75°F during this time of year, said that the colder temperatures have likely made him sleepier. He said that he is definitely more reluctant to leave his room for meetings or other social gatherings.

As a member of the Harvard University Cycling Association, Beazer noted that the club has been meeting less often. Instead of attending meetings he has recently tended to practice in his room, with a “cycling trainer” that allows him to simulate the experience of a bicycle without actually having to go outside in the snow, he added.

This lack of social activity and the consequent feelings of loneliness and sluggishness that it can cause are classified as the “winter doldrums,” according to Katherine A. Lapierre, chief of the Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services department. However, Lapierre said that the doldrums can be easily treated by simply “trying to stay socially engaged, even if you don’t feel like it.”

Beazer offered similar advice to fellow students suffering from the doldrums.

“It’s definitely tempting to just stay in…but it’s healthy to get out and meet people, talk to people, and just hang out,” he said.

Dining halls have allowed students to fulfill this need to socialize while remaining inside. Harvard University Dining Services staff members Kerry E. Maiato and John S. Martin said that, with the onset of winter, they have noticed an increase in the amount of time students spend in the dining halls.

“We all crave social contact,” said Jacqueline Olds, a Harvard professor of psychiatry, when asked about this increase in dining hall activity. She added that mealtime interaction with friends can actually be a good treatment for weather-related malaise.

While the doldrums are a minor, very treatable condition, there are more serious health issues that can arise from the winter weather. In particular, seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression, is linked to the reduction in bright light received during the darker parts of the year, according to Lapierre.

However, Lapierre added that, unlike other forms of depression which are typically treated with antidepressant medication, SAD can be relatively quickly addressed by increasing one’s exposure to bright light at the beginning of the day to help improve sleep cycles and focus levels.

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