Break the Pattern

This editorial originally appeared in volume 24, issue 3 of the Prospective. It was my first editorial to write. Previously, I had typically written news, and opening up- even though my name wouldn’t appear on the piece- was much harder than I had expected.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Family visits, friends return, there’s plenty of food to eat. It’s about constant merriment.

Then, the days get darker.

Schoolwork seems to pile on as we try to make it from Thanksgiving to Christmas break, an awkward education limbo. The charms of high school, notably football games, have worn off, and we must resign ourselves to essays, packets and the ever-present shadow of semester exams.

Then, it gets colder.

The sweaters we were so excited about wearing in September aren’t as comfortable as we remembered, the lattes are starting to get old and we’re sick of constantly having some sort of cold. Winter is a lot less romantic than Twitter made it seem a month and a half ago with all the tweets about how ready for cold weather and ABC marathons everybody is.

Then the mid-year rut starts to set in.

We fall into the routine. It becomes easier to zone out in class and harder to turn in assignments on time. Motivation slips away, and that sort of despondence drips into our home lives. The exhaustion follows us back from school and weighs down on our shoulders.

For some, that weight is especially heavy.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that cycles with the time of year. It is most common in the winter, though there are some cases in summer months. Psychology Today estimates that 10 million Americans suffer from SAD, and six percent of those ten million have reported needing hospitalization.

Then, there’s the food.

The holiday season is always accompanied by it, and salad is not usually the big feature of everybody’s table for Christmas dinner. The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that most Americans gain only one pound during the winter season, but despite our few attempts to lose the weight at the gym after New Years, most people never lose that pound.

It begins to build up, and we can tell. Clothes start to fit tighter, and that oversized sweater isn’t quite as oversized as it was earlier.

But despite popular belief, the problem is not necessarily the noticeable weight gain. It is our reaction to it. For both men and women, there is a rise in body image issues. We start turning to unhealthy diets and treatments that are not proven to be effective, like pills or the “diet wrap” trend. In an attempt to feel healthy, we leave nutrients and exercise behind, beginning unhealthy habits. According to a journal published by the National Institutes of Health, the severity of bulimia peaks in the winter and fall.

We can’t layer more clothing in hopes of pretending to feel comfortable in our own skin. Bigger sweaters, another pair of joggers and “metabolism-boosting” supplements won’t patch our insecurities. Exhaustion is not going to be solved by binge-watching another Netflix series, and the sadness you may feel now is not going to be permanent.

Yes, it is winter. It is cold and it is dark, and sometimes it seems like it is never going to get better. But we are stronger than weather cycles. We can make better choices than destroying our mental and emotional health. These few months won’t define the year.

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