There’s something about second semester that just doesn’t feel right. Regardless of how organised, prepared and motivated I am at the beginning, how much I cajole and lecture myself, I just can’t seem to get my shit together. I usually begin the semester full of lofty ideals and ready for war. I leave cute little notes around reminding me to keep my chin up, and reminding myself to get some work done. Within a few days those notes turn a slight shade of sarcastic and, before long they’ve moved through a stage of dark, passive aggression before turning into screeds of abusive self-loathing. By week three or four I feel mired in a mental and physical quicksand; the sheer thought of extricating myself from bed seems like far too much work. So, there I lie, a ball of anxiety, crushed by the sheer amount of work I still have on my plate and mentally unable to do any of it.
I’ve never been able to pin down exactly why those first few weeks of second semester seem so tar-thick and mentally viscous, so I reached out to Counsellor and Health and Welfare Advisor, Helen Scobie, to try and understand exactly why, at this point every year, I always feel like such a monolithic pile of human garbage.
Helen instantly brings up ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ or SAD. “Feeling unmotivated at the start of Semester Two can be due to the colder temperature, shorter days and longer dark periods,” confirms Helen. While SAD is a clinical condition and different to a generalised downturn in mood, the winter months can lead us all into lethargy, a biological want for more sleep and a distinct lack of motivation.
Helen also suggested that you could “interpret these mid-semester blues as feeling low, or demotivated, if you have not performed as well as you wanted to in Semester One, or perhaps you are not enjoying your courses or program.”
Helen advises that hours, days, even weeks of struggling to get through the day are normal; what is important is knowing how to take care of yourself.
Self-care is essential, and can be as simple as soaking up some Vitamin D when the sun does show itself, going for a walk “in the weather, whatever the weather”, suggests Helen. “If it is wet, don’t be scared, you won’t melt! Just pop on some boots and a raincoat. Find a puddle!”
Helen also advises not to fall into the trap of using the mid-semester break as a be-all and end-all catch up. Planning to use the break as a chance to catch up on all those things you’ve missed “can lead you to feel disheartened, and demotivated, when they do not achieve this goal.”
By all means, do a bit of uni work in the holidays, but don’t bite off such a big mouthful you choke on it. “Use the upcoming break to practice some self-care and get ready, psychologically, for the rest of the semester,” suggests, Helen.
“It is important to set realistic goals for what can be achieved as well as making time to relax, check in with family/friends and spend time out and about connecting to the world. Sometimes it is possible to connect to the world as well as doing the study/relaxation/catch up—for example have a coffee in the sunshine rather than sitting inside, go for a walk on the beach rather than using a treadmill, head to a yoga class with a friend rather than watching Netflix at home.”
Helen suggests some little slices of self-care, tailored to your own needs, implemented regularly. Do something that gives you comfort; take a bath, read a book that has nothing to do with academia, put new sheets on your bed, use your hands to do some knitting, or baking, drawing or gardening – any kind of tinkering is good.
It’s also important to remember that the literal light at the end of the tunnel is getting stronger every day.
By the time we get back it will be week 9. Spring shall have sprung, the campus will be warmer, the vitamin D plentiful (sunscreen and a hat, please) and the longer, brighter, warmer days should help stimulate a brighter, warmer mood – which you will have a few weeks to enjoy before the mozzies mobilise and start their bloodthirsty sorties.
If your mood doesn’t pick up with the increasing presence of the sun, reach out for help. All depressive episodes should be treated with care, and if you can’t pull yourself out of the quicksand throw your hand out to someone who can.
If you don’t know where to begin, book a meeting with a Student Progress Advisor, and have a confidential chat. Student Progress Advisors are an incredible resource: they provide Phone and other online sessions. Use them to get you back on your feet and back to where you want to be.
If you’ve struggling with your program, perhaps you feel you’ve chosen the wrong path, or your degree isn’t what you’d hoped it would be, Helen advises having a chat with a Program Advisor or the Careers team.
Helen advises to contact someone for help if you’ve been feeling constantly depressed for more than two weeks.
If you’re reading this and you’re not just feeling lowly and unmotivated but truly in crisis please call:
NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511
Or 000 in case of emergency
Enjoy your holiday. When we get back you might see me lying on the lawn, trying to soak up some motivation like a weird, pasty lizard. Say hi.