A practical guide for this winter

December 2020
by Gabriele McSween and Alexis Wenzowski

“It can’t beat us!” Pa said.

“Can’t it, Pa?” Laura asked stupidly. “No,” said Pa. “It’s got to quit sometime and we don’t. It can’t lick us. We won’t give up.” Then Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.”

- Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Long Winter

Happy Chanukah, Hamilton! As you light the menorah this year, consider the light that you are able to bring into your life and into other’s. It’s been a strange year. Light matters more than ever.

As we go through winter, and while we are in the midst of a seemingly neverending pandemic, it is important to have your tools ready to help you with your mental wellness. These tools will be your light.

Pandemic aside, every year, two to three per cent of Canadians have seasonal affective disorder. Many others suffer from those winter blues periodically, and CMHA puts the number of sufferers at 18 per cent. 

At a time when 11 to 13 million Canadians are under stress from the pandemic, the risk of having those winter blues or something more severe seems unavoidable. The point is to plan ahead, so that if you start to feel down, you have a path forward. Some easy ways to help you add light to your life include the following:

Establish positive affirmations

Affirmations can ‘trick’ our brains into seeing a new perspective, when practised over time. Some examples include, “I live in the present moment” or “Today I am strong and brave.”

Develop a daily routine 

While it may seem easy to snuggle back into bed, or lie on the couch and binge watch Netflix, having purposeful tasks, along with a schedule makes a difference. As humans, we thrive on routine.

Try some light therapy

There are certain types of light out there which are thought to be effective in treating SAD and the winter blues. According to the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, light therapy is effective in 70 per cent of cases.

Create a coping kit

This is a box tucked away that you only break out when you feel upset, low, or anxious. Common items to include things like lavender essential oil, a hard candy, some puzzles, some delicious tea, a copy of your favourite DVD or book, and a picture that makes you smile. These kits help to “reset” your mood when you’re feeling down.

Make a gratitude list

Sometimes it can be hard to feel thankful about anything. We get it. And yet, in those moments, it is extra important to find gratitude. My recent gratitude list included: “I am thankful for my home, my family, the recent parking ticket that reminded me to not cut corners,” etc. 

Get moving

Even if it’s cold, find a way to get moving. This could include shoveling, dancing to your favourite song played loudly, or lifting soup cans  (yes, this exists.)

Talk to your healthcare provider

If you know that winter is a difficult time for you, reach out to your family physician or therapist to discuss options. Sometimes these options can include counselling appointments, medication, or lifestyle changes.

Develop a thoughtful time

This can be used in prayer, meditation, or thought. This should be a time free of distractions. Start off small  — even five minutes per day can make a difference! This time will help to anchor you through difficulties.

Practise patience

Patience is part of living in the now. Everything changes. Sometimes when feeling fully frustrated with how things are going, say to yourself, “And this too will pass.”

At Hamilton Jewish Family Services, we have seen the impact of the pandemic on people. Our clients report challenges like insomnia, increased irritation, increased tearfulness, feelings of isolation, and more. These are tough times.

Through individual counselling, groups, and public education, we empower people to make changes, and develop their own wellness tools. We believe in helping people navigate life, and in helping every winter feel less long. Don’t forget, life is teaching us many lessons. The pandemic is just one. To grow and to develop as a person, you need to willingly move out of your comfort zone into places where the unexpected can happen. Try to accept the pandemic as an individual growth for you: Live and learn and become wise.

If you are interested in learning more about HJFS Mental Health Services, or in accessing these supports, please connect with Gabriele at gabrielem@hamiltonjfs.ca.