Enjoy these tips from Registered Psychologist Kristi Landry for how to support your mental health through our chilly Canadian winters.
Besides the frigid temperatures, our northern winters can be particularly difficult on mental health due to the reduced daylight hours. If you are like me and regularly ask yourself "why do I live here?" and yet still find yourself embracing Canadian life, these tips may help you manage your mental health through the colder months. My suggestion is to try one or two items at a time, being mindful that not every skill will be helpful for every person. Take what works and leave the rest behind.
If you notice your mental health significantly declines in the fall and returns to your baseline in the spring, you may wish to speak with a mental health professional about Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms include very low energy, irritability, and other symptoms of depression. Speaking with your family doctor, a psychologist or psychiatrist can help you determine if this is something you experience and learn how to treat it.
Tip#1 MOVE YOUR BODY
Sorry folks- probably no surprises here. Movement is inextricably linked to positive mental (and physical) health, and tends to decline when the weather drives us inside. Notice though that I said movement, not exercise. Movement can be dancing, cleaning, rearranging your furniture, cooking/baking (is it just me, or is mixing batter a brutal arm workout?), shoveling, or chasing your kids around. Ideally, try to find something you enjoy doing and you'll be more likely to make it happen. My go-to's are walking the dogs, swimming, or watching my favorite show while walking on the treadmill. And whisking batter, I guess.
Tip#2 go outside
Hear me out.
Fresh air and actually putting your face in some sunshine is a really big deal when it comes to neurotransmitters (read: the chemicals in or brains that make us feel happy). Pair this with some movement, like a casual stroll around the block, and you've already accomplished two mental health snacks. You're amazing.
Tip#3 find something to look forward to
This can be a fun one. Maybe you find a new recipe to try. Or do some research on the danish custom of hygge (look it up- you won't regret it). Perhaps you feel adventurous and want to roast some marshmallows outside. You are unstoppable! Personally, I've recently become a huge fan of building book nooks. So much so that it could be blizzarding outside and I wouldn't even notice.
Tip#4 Get your zzz's
Another habit closely linked to mental and physical health is quality sleep. If you struggle with getting a good night's rest, check out this article with some important tips to help improve your sleep.
Tip#5 stay connected
In my experience, winter can already be pretty isolating. Poor road conditions and the endless string of viruses going around can lead to many cancelled plans. However, humans are social creatures and we generally require social connection to stay healthy. Personally, this is often the last thing I notice when I'm not feeling my best, so I don't often connect socializing to my mental health. But a quick catch up with a friend has proven to me time and again just how powerful that connection is. Try to focus first on connections that make you feel warm and fuzzy.
Tip#6 find something that doesn't suck about winter
It's so very easy to focus on the negative. In fact, humans are really great at it because it helps us pinpoint danger and generally stay alive. Not so helpful when you want to focus on your mental health, though. So this tip is about finding something to enjoy during the winter months. Maybe it's cozyfying (did I just create a new word?) your home, learning how to skate, visiting the mountains, eating a lot of stews, or just appreciating how gorgeous the frost looks on tree branches. If you've gotta dig, dig- it'll help your attitude and emotions shift.
Tip#7 make a favourite hobby winter-friendly
Another creative challenge!
So you like having BBQ's in the back yard, do ya? You can still do that in the snow. Grab your winter gear and make it happen, my friend. You might even have a lot of fun. Enjoy visiting the beach? Maybe you are secretly one of those very brave people who enjoy a polar plunge. (Please consult with a medical professional first. Kristi didn't make you do it.) With a little creativity, you might just be able to continue enjoying your favourite activities year-round.
Tip#8 avoid unhealthy coping
This one is more about what not to do. While drinking, smoking, substance use, or other habits that help us "zone out" (and not be particularly present in our bodies) are still coping skills, they are the kind that aren't particularly helpful or healthy in the long run. Or even the short run, in some cases. As much as possible, try to embrace the habits that help you feel present in your body and leave you feeling refreshed, calm, and focused.
There you have it, folks. My 8 best tips for getting through the winter months. If you think it will help someone you know, please share. Free resources are awesome.
If you are interested in including therapy in your winter mental health tool kit, feel free to reach out to us today or take our Therapist Match Quiz to be paired with one of our mental health experts.
Stay warm out there!