Winter essentials for a tropical heart

17 April 2020

Sara spent her year abroad in Hamburg. In this blog she gives her tips for making the most out of winter, when you have a 'tropical heart'.


Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), like any mental illness, is a challenge. The lack of sunshine alters our sleep hormones and accompanied by a decrease in social contact (who wants to go outside when it’s -10 degrees Celsius?) this duo makes it a real challenge for our mood to be positive. Over a long period of time, it even influences our emotions. But worry not, young winterfarer, as I am here to guide you through the ordeal of a tropical Colombian heart in this harsh German winter. These tips will help you not only survive but #thrive- until (UCL) neuroscientists come up with a sunshine-pill.

Getting out of bed is hard any day of the year, but in winter it truly becomes a titanic effort. The only things that help me are light and nature. With my soft fairy lights’ switch far enough away from me so that I need to get my core engaged, the first thing I see when I open my eyes is a moss-covered sunlit tree: well, a poster of it, so Tip # 1: recreate spring inside when it gets cold outside! Artificially stimulating your brain visually is such an easy trick: a postcard of a sunny landscape in your door is enough.

Breakfast in my student hall proves hectic: 5 people using a kitchen at the same time might seem overwhelming, but it does get my German going. Most importantly though, Tip #2: being around people when the night and day seem to bleed into one another keeps loneliness at bay. Isolation is clearly the default reaction to feeling under the weather, but it truly perpetuates it longer, so just get out, even for 10 minutes, and make meaningless small talk: it’s worth it.

Heading to the gym at 9 am may seem like one of the worst ideas ever, and it does feel like THE worst as soon as you step outside for the 13-minute walk in -10 Celsius weather. However, once my Black Mirror-esque Cyberobics course gets my blood flowing, I can slowly feel some of my optimism crawling its way out of hibernation. Tip #3: exercise is the most effective way to give your brain the hormones it craves. We underestimate the effect our bodies have on our mental state.

A quick jog to catch the train for my literature seminar keeps my fingers from freezing, but they are still shaking, as I am giving Referat (an assessed presentation) and then running to make it to my grammar lesson Klausur (a good ol’ exam). This exam season hit me hard and it has to do with the weather: it is very hard to focus and study when I feel like sleeping all day because the sun goes down at 3 pm, if it comes up at all! Nevertheless, I was able to have a not-too-stressful morning because I made sure to prepare for these assessments by, Tip #4: making lists. Listing tasks, deadlines and exam dates is the best way to prevent them from accumulating. I do know how nerdy it sounds, but it is all about streamlining: keeping mental clutter away is a good habit in general, specially to keep blue episodes functional. Also, the small feeling of achievement when you tick something off the list truly should not go unnoticed.

I have found that habits are the very best way to keep my mental state under my control: it is all about doing things you do not feel like doing in order to feel better in the future. Also, remember, winter doesn’t last forever.


By: Sara Cordovez Lopez