Anyone feeling the winter blues? Most Canadians aren’t strangers to the impact the long, cold, dark winter months have on our wellbeing. This year, of course, is particularly challenging for many given the added constraints brought about by COVID-19. Normally human contact and connection is recommended by researchers as being key in protecting our mental health but that’s a resource that’s not quite as accessible these days.
Feeling down in the dumps, a depletion of your energy reserves, ongoing pessimism and having a difficult time managing stress are all common experiences when the days become shorter and colder. I don’t know about you but yesterday felt like just one of many “Groundhog Days” – lately I’ve been feeling déjà vu on a nearly daily basis! Perhaps in winters before the pandemic hit you looked forward to an annual trip south to soak up some rays. Maybe cozy get-togethers with family and friends used to help you to decompress. My pre-pandemic winters were broken up by invigorating conferences and other work-related events that gave me much-needed infusions of mental energy, helping me to avoid the entrepreneur’s worst nightmare: professional stagnancy!
This year it’s a little tougher. If you’ve done any training with me, you know I’m all about the small steps because, A) they’re manageable enough to feel do-able and not overwhelming and, B) with consistency they can make a huge difference. Let’s explore a few ideas that cover both of those bases.
1. Get some fresh air
Even if it’s just for a few minutes, make it a point to get some fresh air every day. Leave technology at home and immerse yourself in the endless natural beauty that surrounds us here in Canada. Time spent in the great outdoors can help us to feel grounded and can support mindfulness practice. I’ve gotten great use out of my balaclava this year so even on very cold days I’m able to press pause on my work commitments and get outside. On days where my schedule of back-to-back Zoom meetings doesn’t allow for a hike in the woods I often throw on my jacket and stand on my doorstep for a two minute deep breathing exercise. I’m sure my neighbours and passers-by are curious about what exactly I’m doing standing out in the cold, not moving, usually with my eyes closed – but hey, if it helps my mental health I’m good with that!
2. Make time for social connection
You might have to get creative to accomplish this while adhering to your region’s current restrictions. Zoom date, anyone? Remember that to stay healthy during the pandemic it’s not social distancing we need – physical distancing, yes, but we need to take steps to reduce social distance. If you’re feeling frustrated and short-fused being cooped up with your family, you’re not alone. But remember, physical proximity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality time. Setting a time to get together and really talk or enjoy a shared activity. There are lots of funny new board games that allow you to combine this point with the next!
3. Have a laugh
Curl up with a comedy movie this weekend. Share a funny meme with a friend. My own region in southern New Brunswick recently went through a stint in the “red zone”, meaning citizens were to stay home with the exception of necessary visits to essential stores/services. If it weren’t for my (very hilarious) dog Ruby, I probably would have endured those weeks with no comedic relief as my routine essentially consisted of eating, sleeping and working. Don’t underestimate how effective some big belly laughs can be for stress management.
4. Learn something new
Seeking cognitive stimulation is a great way to combat the “brain fog” that can accompany the winter slump. I’ve heard so many great examples of this during the pandemic: folks who have taken up woodworking, perfected bread making, finally started learning how to play the fiddle or got the ball rolling on another Bucket List item. As a business owner I’ve undertaken professional development (virtually, of course) like never before, including topics I’d been wanting to learn more about for years. A friend of mine recently had a conversation about this concept and he shared with me what I thought was a great tip: he signed up for a “Trivia Tidbit of the Day” newsletter that gets delivered to his inbox. Building learning experiences, big and small, into the mundanity of our days is extra helpful right now.
5. Listen to your body
Feeling more tired than usual? Go to bed an hour earlier. Can’t shake a sluggish feeling? Is your diet as well-balanced as it could be? Is your Fitbit nagging that your step count is way down now that you’re leaving home less? Find creative ways to move your body each day. I’ve been working hard these past few months on getting in tune with my physical health needs. Last night, no joke, my body told me it needed a few pieces of chocolate before bedtime. So I listened to that. This morning my body told me it needed a workout. At first I didn’t feel like I had the time or energy for it but once I got started (and especially afterward) I was really glad I listened. Taking care of our physical health supports the other domains of our wellbeing, including our mental and social health.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (which carries the ironic acronym “SAD”) is more significant and longer-lasting symptoms than just feeling a little down. If you’re struggling to enjoy things you once did, having a hard time staying on top of day-to-day tasks at work and/or home or just generally really aren’t feeling like yourself, reach out to your family health care provider or a GP at a walk-in clinic (virtual care is likely available in your province/territory) for help.
Until next time, thanks for reading! Be well, friends.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.