Daniel Ra / Sun Staff Photographer

Cornell students on campus and at home face COVID-19 isolation and virtual learning in short days and cold weather.

December 7, 2020

As Winter Approaches, Students Struggle With Mental Health

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With the transition to fully virtual instruction and the shift to colder weather, many students have already returned home for the remainder of the semester.

Jubilant election celebrations and sunsets on the slope defined life on campus, but now, the colder weather combined with stringent COVID-19 restrictions has created stress and feelings of isolation for many students. 

The weather “makes time slow down a bit,” said Olga Khmelnitsky ’23, who returned home to Queens, New York a few days after Thanksgiving. To cope with what she described as “the winter wallows,” she has been spending much of her time outdoors, taking walks when she can. 

“I felt like coming home with the changing season really exacerbated my mental and emotional stamina,” said Ellen Park ‘21, a resident of Long Island, New York, who returned home right before Thanksgiving. With little motivation to complete her work, she has also spent time outside, enjoying nature and relieving stress. 

While many students have used the outdoors as a break from virtual classes, the colder weather has hindered some students from doing so. 

Like Khmelnitsky and Park, Julia Caldropoli ’23 also liked spending time running outdoors to de-stress between classes. However, with the weather starting to become unbearably cold in her Westchester hometown, she said she has found it difficult to stay active. Instead, she has used the time she normally spends outdoors to focus on her drawing skills and art. 

Even Khmelnitsky has found her plans inhibited by the weather at times. When it is too cold to take a walk, Khmelnitsky enjoys baking, which she said makes her kitchen “warm and toasty” and has helped her ward off the colder weather.

For other students, the change in weather has contributed to COVID-related stress. To help with these stresses, organizations like Cornell Minds Matter are hosting knitting groups and other small events over winter break to give students a sense of community.

“Winter can always be a bit of a tough time and the pandemic adds extra stress on top of that,” said Rachel Bradley ’20, president of Cornell Minds Matter. 

Bradley also encourages students to seek out resources including the student-created Unmasked app — a platform that allows students to candidly discuss their mental health anonymously and receive support — as well as the national Crisis Text Line and the Trans LifeLine.

Rachel Moss ’22, who recently returned to her home in Long Island, said thinking about COVID-19 in relation to the changing weather has been a source of anxiety for her. She said she worries about the colder weather limiting outdoor gatherings and forcing more indoor hang-outs with less social distancing.

To manage this stress, she uses Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Although virtual this semester, she doesn’t believe CAPS has been any less effective than in previous semesters.

Alex Tsalikis ’23 said that along with COVID-19 restrictions, the shorter days have made it difficult to meet with friends safely. Unable to see her friends, who don’t feel comfortable meeting indoors, has been stressful for Tsalikis, as she typically looks forward to seeing them when she’s home.  

Emily Pollack ’24 said on campus, she felt a lot of people spent time outside with friends, or they were studying and eating outdoors because it was a safer option than being indoors. But now, as the weather forces people to remain indoors with minimal socializing, Pollack said she believed “managing mental health will become more difficult this winter.”

While many students said they experienced increases in stress with the shift in weather, few students have expressed excitement at the prospect of winter.

“The thing that I dislike most about the winter months and colder weather is how the sun sets so early, making me feel unproductive and somewhat unmotivated … but I eventually get used to this schedule and actually enjoy the chilly weather outdoors whenever I can,” said Ava Liu ’22.

Liu said she looks forward to visiting Manhattan with her family during the holidays, where she walks, shops and admires the city’s holiday decorations. 

Like Liu, Sarah Addison ’23, a Manhattan resident who left campus shortly before Thanksgiving, has already begun to make plans to enjoy the weather once classes are finished.

“I love the winter season and am very excited for it to snow in the city,” Addison said.