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Julia Yang / Gavel Media

Mental Health at BC - BC Students’ Moods Renewed in the Spring Sun

Spring's vibrant colors are finally blossoming around Boston College's campus. The walk from Devlin Hall to O'Neill Library is painted in the pink and white hues of cherry blossoms. Green buds are peaking from the trees, and the sun brightens the sky. As the temperature rises to 70 degrees, students' attitudes rise along with it.

There is an overwhelming feeling on campus that spring has sprung. The Gasson Quad lawn is patch-worked with lounging students doing homework, eating lunch, or sprawling to soak up the returning sunshine. The air is filled with voices of a hundred different conversations and laughter. Students perch on benches and walls, packing close together, trying to get a moment in the spring sunshine after months of winter.

Compare this to the quad from November to March, and it is a very different picture. In winter, the grey sky paints a backdrop to a dreary picture of empty benches and silence except the wind between the bare branches of trees. The lawns are patchy green and brown; rain-induced mud makes swampy corners to the unkept mess of the lawn.

The change in the season shifts the dynamics of stress and students' coping mechanisms. The slightly frozen waters of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir (or "Res") are thawed and students again are flocking to its path. Joggers and chatting friends and couples walk the shores. Families with little kids throw rocks into the still water, and geese stalking the water's edge interrupt the stillness of winter. These activities are more than springtime fun for some students, though. For many, the warmer weather invites and allows them to cope with stress and anxiety.

Connor Nicholas, a pre-med biology major in the class of 2027 said runs around the reservoir are beneficial to his mental health. He explains, "When it's warmer out, I like to go on runs around the "Res." I've started doing that again in the spring when it's nice out. I can't really do that in the winter. I did them a lot in the fall and it helped."

The urge and heightened motivation to get outside and move your body when it is warmer is based on the body's intuition to be active when it is light. Exposure to sunlight is believed to increase the body's production of serotonin, a hormone that acts as a mood stabilizer. When it is darker outside, as it is in the winter months, serotonin levels lower, and melatonin is produced in higher amounts. Having low levels of serotonin can increase your risk of depression, and melatonin is a hormone that aids in sleep. 

This is why during the winter months, when the days are shorter and the sky is dark and grey, the sun hidden behind gloomy clouds, we feel less motivated to be active. When it is dark and cold, we want to curl up in sweats and watch a movie or read a good book. 

When spring arrives and the longer days are filled with sunlight, our bodies start to produce more melatonin again, motivating us to get up and get outside. 

"I definitely feel the difference between when the sun starts staying out later and being able to go outside makes me happier," said Jessica Ayers, a freshman with an applied psychology major in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development. "I have more motivation and I'm more excited to do things." what Ayers is feeling is her body's biological response to sunlight.

The sun plays an important role in how students live and act in their daily lives. The shift of spring is as visible in the trees as it is felt by students around campus. Spring is not the only factor in determining the state of one's mental health, though. Annahita Riazi, a freshman and neuroscience major on the pre-med track, said her community plays a significant role in her health. 

"Of course I'm happier in the sun," said Riazi. "It's just like a happier moment. But I feel like the thing that brings me the most happiness in my life is the people around me and that doesn't change."

Having a good support system is very good to help monitor and deal with your fluctuating mental health. In winter, being surrounded by good friends and family can help offer a different source of joy and excitement that is missing from the dark days. Now that spring has arrived, take advantage of the fresh air and sunshine, but maybe bring your friends along. 

As many students are doing now, head to Stokes Amphitheater or Gasson Quad to do some work and hang out with friends while taking advantage of the time to absorb as much vitamin D as you can. Help yourself sustain a happier and more motivated mood by spending as much time outside as you can. 

Nicholas composed the words of the heightened motivation the spring weather brings with it, saying, "It is so much easier to get up and go about the day when it's nice outside and the weather's warm."

Student happiness is blossoming in synchrony with the blossoms that line the walkways. Students fill the quads, stealing every corner and crevice of the sun's rays that are beating down on our campus on the hill. If you feel the fresh air calling you, listen. Venture outside. Try to soak in as much time in the sun and with friends as you can before the semester's end.

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Coffee addicted ballerina with a nostalgic attachment to black and white movies and Frankie Valli.

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