Winter is coming, whether you’re a Stark or not, and it’s had me thinking about my daily activities. As someone who struggles with depression, winter is a feeding ground for negative energy and lack of motivation that take over my daily routines and overall attitude. This year, I am taking precautionary measures to avoid the winter blues and keep my progress on track. With the semester growing on and my workload increasing by the day, it’s time to adjust my routines and refocus on my goals for the semester and for myself.

As my first stride, I make it a point to go outside as much as possible while the weather is still mild. Of course I have Meera, my professional tree sniffing sidekick, who loves to be outside, so it’s easy for me to convince myself to get off the couch and take her to the park. We run the trails at the park in town, killing two (metaphorical) birds with one stone – exercise and fresh air. The scenery here in West Virginia is beautiful and definitely uplifts my mood whenever I’m in a funk. The mountain ridge on the horizon is the only place that has ever felt like home to me, despite how badly I want to move away from here. Appreciating your environment is a great starting point when trying to relieve some overwhelming stress, too. Sit down and write out the things you like about where you live or where you are, actively avoiding the negative aspects of your surroundings. Go sight-seeing around town or just walk down the street of an area you enjoy. Even if you can’t always go outside to do this, recognizing the good in everyday life is a healthy activity to reduce depression and anxiety. Focus your energy on your favorite places to go, be it a local coffee shop, a bookstore, or the local park. Think of it as a literal happy place. Set aside time to go there and relax, be in the moment.

Outdoor activities are awesome, too, while they’re in season. Even if it’s just a day-trip, going to a lake or scenic attraction can allow you to reenergize and re-center your focus on your goals. Participating in physical activities has some really strong effects on the mind as well as the body: pushing your boundaries and breaching your comfort zone while shooting your friends with paintball guns relieves stress and encourages a good laugh and a story or two. (Is that a really redneck activity, shooting paintballs at people? I hope this happens in other places and not just Appalachia. If not, you guys are missing out.) A lot of lakes have made additions like inflatable obstacle courses, giant slides, and rentals for things like jet skis, paddle boats, etc. Whatever it is, just get out and do it. Have fun. Soak up some of that Vitamin D.

When winter actually hits and the only available outdoor activities are snowboarding and snow angels, natural lighting is key to making the day seem a little less gloom. Throw back those curtains before you sit down for lunch, read by the window, or even change out your curtains for lighter, more translucent ones that will allow the light to come through on its own. But also, go out and make some snow angels and snow men. Our inner 8-year-old-selves need a little entertainment, too.

A larger aspect of my attempt to refocus is finding a balance. This encompasses all aspects of my life – health, diet, exercise, homework, work, writing, socializing, hobbies, etc. Extremism, in my experience, has led me down paths of tension and anxiety, no matter what the extreme was. Balance is important for goal-setting, organization, and focus. Do what’s right for your body, but keep your soul in mind too. I don’t just mean this in a physical/mental health way – this can apply to every day tasks. Yes, you have to go to work, but afterwards take care of your intellectual needs by reading a book. Yes, you need to clean your apartment, but make time to watch that show you’ve been waiting all week to see when you’re finished. Sure, the dishes need done, but then recognize the small accomplishment and give yourself a pat on the back with a (clean) glass of wine. Do not deny yourself the little joys of life, but practice enough discipline to not rely on them. Balance.

I realize that I have suggested reading as an enjoyable task more than once in this post alone, but I’m an English major. They wouldn’t give me my degree if I didn’t preach to everyone I know about the importance of literary indulgence. Obviously, I love to read and I love to write, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. Some people hate reading, and even more so despise the thought of writing. But finding literature that appeals to you and challenges you is so, so important. It’s enjoyable, yes, but it expands our vision beyond the limitations we have given ourselves in our daily lives. Our perspectives need to be challenged and shifted through literature, through other’s perspectives, otherwise we cannot progress socially. Reading encourages empathy, which many of us have lost sight of lately. Reading encourages self-assessment, questions of why, answers to questions we didn’t know we had asked, and broader horizons than we had yesterday. So yeah, pick up a book. It’s much more rewarding than surfing your Facebook timeline for hours on end.

Whatever it is that you choose to feed your mind and body, it needs balance. Push your boundaries, but appreciate how well you work within them as well. Look forward to reaching your goals, but don’t forget to acknowledge the progress of here and now. As I’ve said before, time is not always on our side, so we need to make the best of what we have.