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If nothing was expected of you during the cold winter months–no dissertation, work or family obligations–what would you do? For many, the answer would be:

Sleep.

Eat.

Drink.

Nap.

Watch TV.

Read a book.

Repeat.

While these responses may sound a lot like depression, they are also just a natural reaction to the realities of winter. The days are short, the nights are long and (for many) it’s colder. Physiologically, it’s hard to be motivated. Our tendency is to “bear up” and hibernate, whether we want to or not.

With that said, SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is very real and can wreak havoc on completing your dissertation and other projects that need your attention.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy and feeling sluggish
  • Having issues with sleeping too much (or too little)
  • Experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating and weight gain
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless

Even if you don’t suffer from SAD, getting tasks completed, such as your dissertation, can feel like a slow, painful climb uphill during the winter months.

So how can we work with our own biology instead of fighting it? Try these methods to stay focused and energized during the winter months:

Light Therapy

Light therapy has never been cheaper and more accessible. Since seasonal depression may stem from a lack of light, why not bring some safe sunlight into your home or workspace?

If a light therapy lamp is not feasible, get outdoors and grab that sunlight (midday, when the sun is strongest), and don’t forget your Vitamin D which may help with increased cognition and memory.

Exercise “Snacking” 

There’s a reason why so many gym-related resolutions fall flat in winter: a workout requires too much energy when a warm blanket and Netflix are calling instead.

Be reassured: there is an option called “exercising snacking.” A new study says that short bursts of exercise lasting a little over 10 minutes can help activate 80 per cent of the body’s metabolites and lead to not only weight loss but also better cardiometabolic health. This also translates into sharper cognition and increased energy. A regular, short walk prior to sitting down to work on your dissertation may be all that’s needed.

Reflective Reading and Research

Writing can feel like weight lifting on some days, requiring an amount of strength and energy that we simply can’t muster. Happily, the dissertation process is multifaceted.

The winter months can be an excellent time to read, research and reflect on your topic. Allow yourself to free-associate on your ideas using a notebook and a pen (old school, I know). Create a mind-map. Take notes and organize your files. Allow yourself to write freely without heavy editing. You are still being productive but in a gentler, more passive way.

Is it the worst thing to hibernate a bit during winter? It may be beneficial to quiet the mind, to sleep and regenerate, to mull over ideas instead of acting on them.

Let’s take the lead from winter instead of fighting it.

Wherever you are in the world, and whatever season you’re experiencing, dissertation coaching can help you move forward. It’s my mission to support graduate students through the dissertation process by applying effective strategies that worked for me and many others. There is nothing more satisfying than helping doctoral students get back on track, complete their dissertations, graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives!