It’s that time of year again. Shorter days, colder months and holiday stress can make the winter challenging for some. You may have heard of the winter blues – an occurrence some people experience during the winter brought on by the seasonal shift towards darker and colder days. Symptoms of the winter blues include lowered moods, lack of energy, changes in appetite, sleep issues and struggles in focus and motivation.
Winter’s impact on mental health is a common challenge. Fifteen per cent of people report struggling with lower moods each winter. Some may also experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a serious form of depression that impacts roughly two per cent of the population. (The winter blues should not be confused with SAD, as SAD has much more of an impact on mental health.)
Make it your goal to proactively care for your mental health – because taking care of your mental health is a year-round priority.
Follow these six helpful tips to help you fight the winter blues this season.
1. Soak up the sun
It’s time to bundle up to start spending more time outside when possible. A winter walk may not seem appealing for some but going for a short afternoon walk to soak in some natural vitamin D will help increase the brain’s release of serotonin, a mood-boosting chemical. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your face before heading out.
Tip: Rearrange your home to maximize sunlight. If you can, move furniture closer to windows and keep curtains open during the day to let some light in!
2. Make time for exercise
Exercise is essential for any healthy self-care routine. It reduces stress hormones and improves mood. Go at your own pace and choose indoor or outdoor activities you enjoy, whether it’s a walk, a yoga video or lifting weights. If you work from home or sit at a desk, try out these five simple stretches to start your day off right!
3. Focus on healthy eating
During the winter time, we tend to indulge in comfort foods that may not be the healthiest. A nutritious diet packed with protein and vegetables is a great way to maintain a healthy diet in the winter season. It can be tricky (and expensive) to find fresh produce in the winter. That’s why it’s important to know that frozen fruits and vegetables are equally delicious and nutritious. Stock your freezer to ensure you’re getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals in your diet! Get creative in the kitchen with recipes you wouldn’t normally choose. For some new ideas, check out our top picks for hearty slow cooker meals for cooler weather.
4. Establish a wellness routine
Creating a routine is important as it helps foster a sense of purpose that helps us keep up with healthy habits. Healthy routines can start with maintaining consistent wake and sleep times, limiting screen time or social media to avoid negative emotions, or bundling up and going for a walk during your lunch hour.
Tip: Reducing screen time for at least 20 minutes before bed will help you sleep better, which is one of the most important ways to care for your overall health. Try making a herbal tea to relax or read a book before bed.
5. Relax your mind and body
Mindfulness through meditation can help ease your mind and body. It’s about paying attention to the present and connecting with our thoughts and feelings. Find a mindfulness practice that works for you, whether it’s breathing techniques, guided meditation or other practices to help you relax to manage stress and anxiety. If meditation is new to you, it’s important to be kind and patient with yourself in the process.
6. Stay connected
While COVID-19 restrictions may have some of our holiday plans looking a little different, it’s still important to get together (safely) with friends and family. Take the opportunity to show gratitude and nurture your relationship with loved ones. You can do this by organizing virtual coffee, viewing parties or virtual game nights! Connecting with others will help boost your mood and stimulate your mind while also having fun and sharing great company.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder, call a family physician. Here are some additional online resources:
- UHN’s Mental Health Patient Education resource hub for more information on conditions and disorders, treatments and therapies and UHN Clinics and Services
- Mental Health Crisis Line: available 24/7, call: 1-866-996-0991
- Crisis Service Canada: 1-833-456-4566; residents of Quebec: 1-866-277-3553; text #45645 (English only) from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.
- ConnexOntario for help finding mental health and addictions supports in Ontario. The service is free and confidential. It is available whenever you need support. Phone: 1-866-531-2600 (toll-free)
- Betterhelp.com: Get professional therapy with a licensed therapist online
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868; text #686868; live chat
- Good 2 Talk: 1-866-925-5454 (Ontario) or 1-833-292-3698 (Nova Scotia)
- Youth Services Bureau: 613-260-2360 or live chat
- The Hope for Wellness Help Line offers immediate help to all Indigenous peoples across Canada: 24/7 help line at 1-855-242-3310, or live online chat
- National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC): available toll free, call 1-866-633-4220; Toronto: 416-340-4156