Don’t Freeze: Three Tips to Stay Mentally and Physically Healthy at School This Winter

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An increasing number of studies show that many college freshman give up on their education do to mental health problems. A variety of pressures combining in a new environment can make students think that school is more than they can bear. Throw winter into the mix and it can become even more difficult for students to maintain their path on the course to success.

Marlu Abarca, AmeriCorps*VISTA for Iowa College Aid shares her experience and tips for dealing with winter from her freshman year of school, a change made even more extreme having traveled across country to attend Grinnell College:


Winter: a beautiful season, but difficult to adjust to if you didn’t grow up where it snows. Growing up in Los Angeles, I did not have many opportunities to experience the cold—cold being a relative term, where 50 degrees calls for hoodies and UGG boots…all while keeping your shorts on. After moving to Iowa for school, adjusting to the winter weather in addition to the academic expectations of a place like Grinnell College was not as smooth as I expected.

Picture this: you move from a city where the downtown alone has as many people as the whole state of Iowa; add the rigor of a top liberal arts college, new people, and 0-degree weather—things are bound to be difficult. For me, being thousands of miles from my family and friends made the winter part of my first semester in college a tough experience. I found myself becoming very homesick to the point of depression, and I had to also deal with navigating a new campus with icy sidewalks. Looking back, I have three things about being a college freshman in winter would have made for a more successful experience. Check this list out and let us know what your experience was like your first winter in college!

Winter means leaving your dorm early.

I quickly learned that my usual routine of leaving my dorm minutes before class was not going to suffice if I wanted to get to class on time during the winter time. Plan to leave your dorm at least 5-10 mins earlier than you would usually, to account for ice on your path to class, snow and time to admire the cute squirrels.

Maintaining a healthy diet is difficult during the winter, but it’s not impossible.

I remember the change in the menus in the dining hall: all of a sudden we had more hot chocolate and marshmallows; more comfort food to help keep us warm during this season. But all of those calories—and sugar—add up, and do not help with feelings of homesickness. A 2010 study found that the quality of diet is more impactful than things like socioeconomic, family and other factors for levels of depression in adolescents.[1]

Mental health is just as important as your physical health.

When we feel pain, we become concerned and seek medical attention. In the same way, feeling sad, homesick or even having trouble sleeping are all important symptoms to address—especially in an environment like a college campus where you might be far away from loved ones. Take time to call or write to your friends and family and remember to take time for yourself: watch TV, browse the internet, and even visit the gym; taking time to relax and find healthy ways to cope with your winter blues—in moderation—can make a huge difference.


[1]Jacka FNKremer PJLeslie ER, et al. (2010) Associations between diet quality and depressed mood in adolescents: results from the Australian Healthy Neighbourhoods Study.


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