First Canadian winter? A Beginner’s Guide to Staying Mentally Healthy

Winter in Canada can be harsh. Temperatures can drop below freezing and the sun sets early, making the days cold and short. Shorter days and colder weather can greatly affect your mood and overall well-being. Sometimes called the “winter blues,” people may experience a wave of negative emotions that accompany the cold, dark days of winter.

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According to a study in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, about 15% of people in Canada experience the winter blues, which can include feeling the need to sleep more and spend more time alone than with friends and family.

During the winter months, a phenomenon known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a widely studied condition characterized by recurrent episodes of depression that manifest during the winter, can take center stage. About 2-3% of people in Canada experience SAD.

Seasonal change is particularly profound for newcomers to Canada, who face the dual challenges of acclimating to a new environment and struggling with the isolating effects of the winter season.

Strategies to combat the winter blues

In the winter months, it is essential to recognize the importance of vitamin D and sun exposure. The Mental Health Commission of Canada recommends taking vitamin D supplements and even using phototherapy lamps. These lamps mimic natural sunlight and can help regulate circadian rhythms.

Embracing the outdoors during the winter months is crucial, despite the added challenge.

Engaging in activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, or even taking a leisurely walk outside can significantly improve your mood. The combination of physical activity and exposure to natural light has a positive impact on your overall well-being.

In addition, it is important to maintain healthy eating and living habits. Establishing a regular indoor exercise routine can increase endorphin levels, while maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet can positively influence mood and energy levels.

Discovering new hobbies can provide a sense of accomplishment and happiness. You can also break up the winter monotony by planning short vacations, such as a weekend getaway, that can provide a refreshing change of scenery.

Lastly, try to surround yourself with family and friends, especially during the holiday season. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 52% of Canadians report feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation during the holiday season.

If the winter blues persist and affect your daily life, consider seeking professional help. A mental health professional can provide support, guidance and strategies to help cope with seasonal difficulties.

Support systems and resources in Canada for newcomers

Whether you’re experiencing your first Canadian winter or just feeling a little down during this season, there are numerous resources at your disposal. Here are some options:

  • warm lines for informal support: accessible options for those who just want to talk
  • Online peer-to-peer youth community – for young newcomers seeking peer-to-peer support
  • Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA): Local branches offer counseling and community programs. Visit the Government of Canada Wellness Together Portal for more resources.
  • Suicide prevention and crisis support: Call Talk Suicide at 1-833-456-4566 toll-free in Canada (1-866-277-3553 in Quebec) or dial 911 in case of severe distress or suicidal thoughts.
  • Support for international students: Many institutions offer winter wellness events, crisis support, counseling, and cultural adaptation programs. International students should contact their school’s international student office for personalized support.
  • Community and Cultural Groups: Connect with community groups for a sense of familiarity and community bond.

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