Holdgruen: The importance of spending time outdoors in the spring

The best part of the spring semester has finally arrived: the first day you can wear shorts, a dress or tank top without freezing in the bitter cold. At last, you can drink iced coffee, wear sunglasses and relax on the College Green with your friends after class.

Waking up to a warm, sunny day on our beautiful campus is not only uplifting, it’s incredibly tempting—tempting to choose laying out in the sun or taking a trip to Letchworth State Park instead of studying or doing homework.

Of course, with the arrival of the warm weather comes the arrival of research papers, final exams and capstone projects. It’s unfortunate that the most beautiful and enjoyable weather of the semester coincides with the most stressful and busy time in the academic year. Although it is important to focus on schoolwork as the semester comes to an end—for that one last chance to redeem yourself if you got some bad grades—it is also incredibly important to take the time out of your study schedule to sit back and enjoy the sun.

It is not unknown that young adults and college students need free time to feel relaxed, refreshed and focused. Countless studies explain the importance of taking study breaks to enhance concentration and productivity. But taking a study break outside in the nice weather can also help curb feelings of tiredness, sadness and discouragement—symptoms common to those with seasonal affective disorder.

SAD generally affects about 13 percent of the overall population of the United States. A 2011 survey found that 30 percent of college students had the SAD-like symptoms of feeling depressed or isolated. Most students affected by SAD-like symptoms attended schools in the Northeast—areas that typically experience long, cold winters. When exposure to seemingly endless cold weather can cause depressive feelings, it’s no wonder that Geneseo students cherish days warmer than 40 degrees.

Waking up early to get more out of a sunny day is also very beneficial. Studies show that being exposed to bright, early-morning sunlight increases the body’s nocturnal melatonin production. This melatonin production helps us to get better sleep and also specifically helps alleviate SAD symptoms. Although sleeping in during the week is a luxury—and almost feels like a necessity during the busy final weeks—putting in extra effort to enjoy as much of a warm day as possible can improve your health and overall mood.

It’s not always easy to do work outside, as it is difficult to see laptop screens in the sunlight and the wind may blow around the pages of your textbook. But if you have a heavy workload and are feeling stressed, camping out in the quiet section of the library for an entire day may do more harm to your mind, body and quality of your work than you may think.

Don’t feel guilty the next time you take a break to go on a walk or play Frisbee with your friends. Your favorite study spot in the library—as well as your concentration and motivation—will be there when you get back.