The Truth about October & the Post Freshers’ Blues.
My name is Heidi. I’m a chemist at KCL. I feel sad, and I have a theory as to why.
September is a mentally busy time for everyone at uni. From the second you arrive until October hits. Parties, societies, drinking, moving in, new friends, drinking, sports, late nights, drinking, missed sleep, freshers fair, lectures, DRINKING. If you’re a second year you’ve maybe got a part time job thrown in the mix and planning with your societies. The weeks blur into one another and suddenly you’re exhausted and go from having 3 plans a night to maybe 3 all week if you’re lucky.
Welcome to October.
Hangovers seem to last longer, your lack of sleep is making you grouchy, you can’t miss class as the intro lectures are over, it rains a little more often and you don’t seem to have warm enough clothes as “it’s only October”. Shops flood you with images of crisp leaves and warm colours, yet you can’t help but feel cynical as you sip your pumpkin spiced latte knowing that Halloween will never be as good as Christmas.
The cause of this dull october feeling? DRUGS. yep. Namely: Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins. (I’m hilarious I know.) Whilst my theory isn’t founded in any scientific research I am a chemist so I’m the closest thing you’ll get to an expert (not really).
It’s not a secret that hangovers feel terrible, but we drink as being tipsy feels great. Just like every other drug, your body’s happiness isn’t free from comedowns and hangovers. Ever heard of runners high? Well that’s exactly it. An endorphin HIGH. Clues in the name. Coming off a whole month’s worth of happy drugs, it’s not surprising I feel a bit rubbish. Whilst a busy and exciting September may raise your levels of dopamine, your cortisol & adrenaline (stress hormones) go up too, and if you’re susceptible to feeling particularly anxious you’ll know that adrenaline come downs can feel truly rubbish. I catch a cold every Christmas – without fail, ever since my GCSEs! My body begins to relax for a few days lowering my cortisol levels as stress melts away… but cortisol is also partially responsible for your immune system. This sudden change disrupts the body and boom – coughs and carols. I believe a similar effect contributes to freshers flu, but the close quarters of student halls also certainly don’t help. In the same way you feel physically and mentally exhausted after exams or large social gatherings, the effects of September and Freshers are the same but amplified. Whilst your happy chemical levels settle to normal, the contrast from their continued spike is truly shocking to the system and the brain.
So, why am I telling you this? Well, I suppose to tell you you’re not alone, or to tell you there is a (possible) reason you feel a little rubbish. But you won’t feel rubbish for long! Whether it’s a trip home, a cup of tea or a catch up with a friend, do something for you and you’ll feel better in no time (or by the second week in October once those darned chemicals chill out).
In the meantime, here’s a playlist for when you want to lean into those sad feelings, appropriately named “Cortisol Comedown”. I’ll leave it to my radio costars to produce a “Serotonin Spike” playlist to help you out of those down periods.
Also because academic honesty is extremely important you can check out my source in “The Science Creative Quarterly” – STRESS, CORTISOL, AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM: WHAT MAKES US GET SICK? by Alvin Lim.
DISCLAIMER: there was seriously NO research involved in this. It’s all my brain (and the words of Mr Lim)