From one student to another: How to protect your mental health when it’s dreary outside


The beginning of fall is usually an exciting time for me. Sweater weather, pumpkin spice lattes, my dad’s famous chili, sad Taylor Swift music and cat-themed Halloween decorations fill my joy tank for a few months.

The trees change from dark green to speckled orange, and there is a delicate crispness in the air. Fall is the season many of us look forward to throughout the year, but it is important to also consider the difficulties that come along with the changing weather. When the cold weather sets in, some of us could begin to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Fall can feel dreary, frigid and melancholy. We might sometimes stay home more often due to the cold weather — even more so now in a pandemic. The days become shorter and influence circadian rhythms and sleep schedules.

That’s why this fall it is especially important to stay positive, productive and protective over our mental health. I have some personal strategies I use to stay mentally healthy, and Dr. Jessica Provines, assistant vice president of Student Affairs and Wellness here at Wichita State University, also shares how activity and social interaction are the best ways to overcome seasonal sadness. I hope with these simple encouragements that students will discover the best ways to stay motivated and mindful of their mental health.

Establish routine

Establishing a routine is one of the best ways to stay proactive about your mental health. Having things to do will encourage you to get out of bed and to do something that makes you feel good about yourself. No matter what the activities are in your routine, establish tasks and activities in your day to help you live out a fulfilled and productive life.

Plan out your days to have at least one fun activity

Most of us need something to look forward to after a long day at work or school. Making plans can be tough at times, but it will also get you through a rough day. Set yourself up for happiness by anticipating for one enjoyable activity at the end of your day. It could be watching a show, reading, taking a walk, eating or FaceTiming with a friend. Allow yourself the time to focus on you at least once during the day.

Recognize the importance of boundaries

Setting boundaries in your work-life balance is important all year round, but especially important as the seasons change and many of us are taking classes from home. You will never be able to pour from an empty cup and recharging yourself is crucial to staying happy and healthy. Although I love to stay busy, I try to set aside two days during the week when I can focus on myself and catch up on life.

Express your creativity on the extra gloomy days

Finding an outlet for your thoughts and emotions is the perfect way to stay productive and active on dreary days. Pick up a pen, a paintbrush, an instrument, a camera, or utilize any medium that will help you channel your feelings into creation. My favorite way to channel my inner dialogue is through writing. When I can write down my thoughts, I discover solutions that help me feel happier.

Stay active

Provines says the best way to manage your mental health is to “fight the sedentary lifestyle of the constant meetings” and to “make sure that you’re scheduling some walking meetings or talk to friends on the phone and do a walk in your neighborhood.” This piece of advice made me realize there are times in the day where I could easily take a walk while also getting other work done.

Provines also recognizes that when it gets colder out, this will become more difficult. She encourages students to come to the Student Wellness Center inside the YMCA building on campus, use the track to take walks, and be physically active. Especially because the YMCA is free to all students, it is the perfect place to get active when it becomes too cold to spend extensive time outside. Another way to get moving is to visit the Heskett Center on campus or participate in programs with Campus Recreation.

Make time for people

Provines passionately believes that students can combat seasonal sadness with intentionally making sure you engage with your support systems and have social interaction— while being safe, wearing masks and social distancing, of course. A big challenge during the pandemic has been to stay connected with other people. If we are intentional about checking with loved ones, we are more likely to feel engaged with the people we care about most.

There is no doubt that the cooler weather will affect us students mentally but staying proactive about our mental health will carry us through the difficult times. With an established routine, a full joy tank, effective boundaries, creativity, activity and time with others, I am hopeful we will be able to maintain control over our mental state to stay positive and productive.

If you or someone you know experiences a mental health crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the crisis line at 741-741. Counseling and Prevention Services on campus also provides counseling and additional support through the CARE team. There are also several educational programs to attend in-person and virtually.

Visit the CAPS website to learn more

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