Defeat the Drab of Winter

Tests pile up. The air gets cold. The sky becomes gray. And above all else, there is so little to look forward to.

The second half of Term 2 feels like a lump in the middle of the school year, a constant uphill battle with low temperatures and mounting schoolwork. Each morning, it is harder to get out of bed, and each night it is harder to find motivation for homework.

Spring break, summer, and sunny days feel far out of reach, but they are actually closer than you think.

When the day feels like a dark, cold challenge, there are several ways to improve your mood and drive. Dr. Andrew Huberman is a popular neurologist at Stanford University of Medicine, and he recently rose to fame with the release of his podcast: Huberman Lab. Huberman uses the podcast to explore the science of our brains and the way our everyday activities affect it.

Here are Huberman’s main tips to improve your mood (so you don’t have to listen to all 2 hours of the episode).

The Importance of Sleep

According to Huberman, “Sleep is a critical component of happiness: viewing direct morning sunlight within 30-60 minutes of waking will help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night, and optimize cortisol and adenosine levels.”

As high school students, we constantly hear about the importance of sleep, but we rarely experience it. Many of my own nights are plagued by cramming for a test or writing an essay due the next day. Making sleep a priority, however, requires planning ahead. When a little extra work goes into planning, an increase in sleep and happiness is the result.

Giving and Prosocial Spending

Huberman says, “One of the central themes of gratitude is that giving increases happiness for the giver—this is true of giving money, effort, and time so long as the person needs help and it’s not putting you out.”

What does this mean? Doing community service, giving compliments, helping a friend with homework, even something as simple as lending a pencil can improve your mood. If you give where you can, it has significant effects on your mental and physical happiness. 

The Ability to Focus

Huberman advises, “Focus on the current activity—even if you don’t like the activity—leads to higher self-reported happiness than when your mind wanders to other topics—even if your mind wanders to happy topics.”

How can you do this? Huberman suggests a brief meditation for 13 minutes when you find yourself losing concentration in the middle of a task. This can be praying, closing your eyes, grounding yourself, or looking up a 13 minute meditation on YouTube. Research shows that the ability to refocus after losing focus has a strong impact on happiness. Our brains feel more productive and are driven to accomplish more. 

Social Connections

This might not come as a surprise, but Huberman states, “We have a whole area of the brain tied to facial recognition, also linked to anxiety, fear, and well-being.” Seeing familiar companions, such as our family members, friends, and partners in the morning and early afternoon stimulates happiness. Research also suggests that, in the general population, simply seeing a dog generates as much happiness as receiving a present. Spend more time with your dog or visit a local animal shelter.

Happiness is so important to mental and physical health. Taking time for yourself is more important than taking time for assignments. Never underestimate the power of happiness and make an effort to feel happy every day.

If you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed, talk to your teacher about an extension or other arrangements that might offer a solution. Teachers are people too, and more often than not they are happy to help.

Always remember: One grade matters less than your mental state, and spring break and summer are just around the corner!