Beating the winter blues

I can hear children shouting in delight as they chase a round, black puck on an outdoor community centre rink whenever I step outside my home. Last Saturday evening, the young lads and lasses on skates were particularly boisterous, which caused me to reflect on the days of my youth, when I also enjoyed the many hours spent during the winter playing hockey on an outdoor rink. It also caused me to reconsider a misplaced opinion that today’s youth are more apt to remain inside to play war games on their computers than take part in activities in the Great Outdoors during the colder months of the year. In fact, the two outdoor rinks at the community centre seem to be constantly occupied, and on game days I can observe parents watching along the boards and cheering on the tots  who have managed to make contact with the puck, however awkwardly.

Canadians do take advantage of winter and the Great Outdoors — some skate on ponds, lakes and rivers, while others play road hockey, snowmobile, toboggan, hike or ski, etc. 

But in the end, winter doesn’t exactly stir up strong feelings of love for many, who would rather remain indoors or flee south to some hot Caribbean country when the snow begins to fly, which is exactly what a new survey has found.

Canadians have a love-hate relationship with winter, according to the National survey, Blue Monday. The survey revealled that 43 per cent of Canadians have experienced or are currently experiencing winter blues. The survey, commissioned by the Weather Network, found that from January to March, Canadians are more likely to report feeling tired (54 per cent), lethargic (35 per cent) and depressed (24 per cent) rather than energetic (seven per cent) and happy (19 per cent). 

To help Canadians combat the winter blues, The Weather Network has partnered with Master Life coach Bruno LoGreco to provide practical tips to get us to spring.

Canadians who have experienced the winter blues say fewer daylight hours (75 per cent), cold or extreme cold temperatures (72 per cent) and heavy snowfall (25 per cent) are the most common causes.

“In Canada, we take great pride in enjoying all the weather Mother Nature throws our way, but for some the cold, dark days of winter can be tough to deal with,” said LoGreco. “The survey results show that Canadians make a direct connection between cold, snowy weather and feeling blue and, in the coldest parts of the country, this is especially true. 

“However, no matter what type of winter weather you’re experiencing, there are simple ways to feel better.”

Manitoba is one province that does suffer through some of the coldest temperatures in the nation, with cold, Arctic air masses continually dropping down during the height of winter to blanket the province in bone-chilling conditions. It’s not uncommon during the depths of winter for the thermometer to dip to -30°C or -40°C, and that’s without taking into account the wind chill. 

It can become brutally cold and prompt the issuance of a weather warning. It’s difficult to motivate Manitobans to go outside when a weather warning claims that exposed skin can freeze in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

According to the survey, more than half of Canadians are less inclined to socialize, 58 per cent said they are less likely to exercise, 69 per cent sleep more and 71 per cent report a noticeable drop in energy during the winter. 

LoGreco said it doesn't have to be that way. He has helped many clients cope with winter blues and regain feelings of happiness and fulfillment and offers the following tips to help Canadians shake off the winter blues:

• Kick-start the day with physical activity. A regular exercise routine increases energy, mental and physical well-being and releases stress and anxiety. Check out your local gym for aerobics classes. If you want added excitement, try rock climbing or change up your exercise routine and challenge yourself. A fun playlist will give you extra bounce.

• A calm mind is a clear mind. Take 10 minutes daily and practice a mindfulness technique. Focus on breathing. Take deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling, slowly, through the mouth.

• Soak up the winter sunlight. Take a walk during break time and take advantage of natural sunlight even if it is cold outside. Keep curtains open and your workspace well lit.

• Express your creativity. You don't need to be an artist. Creativity could be anything you enjoy doing that is effortless and enjoyable, for example, cooking and baking, woodworking and home do-it-yourself DIY projects, etc.

• Step away from your work area and take a break during the lunch hour. It’s also a good time to replenish nutrients the brain needs to ensure you remain active and alert during the afternoon without dragging your feet.

The Weather Network indicates there is still a lot of winter weather ahead for Canadians. Late January and most of February will feature a temperature pattern resembling at times what was experienced last winter, with below seasonal temperatures from the Rockies to the Maritimes.  British Columbia and Newfoundland have the best chance of seeing near seasonal temperatures.  

In between cold snaps, we’ll see days with seasonal to above seasonal temperatures, but there are no signs that spring will arrive early this year across Canada.

Manitoba is currently in the midst of one of those unseasonably warm periods. For the last few days, temperatures have been as high as -3°C and rarely as low as -15°C, which, in effect, can be classified as downright balmy weather. And it’s noticeable that people are a little more cheerful now than they were earlier in January and December when the temperatures were much lower on the Celsius scale.  

The survey also found:

• Nearly half of Canadians said the worst part of winter is shoveling snow, while 48 per cent dread getting up early to start their car.

Canadians said they combat the winter blues by:

• Staying in and cuddling on the couch at 53 per cent.

• Indulging in comfort food at 38 per cent.

• Taking a vacation  at 23 per cent.

• Taking a walk outside at 23 per cent.

• Praying for warm weather (who doesn’t?)  at 19 per cent.

• Eighty-one per cent of Canadians say their mood improves as the weather gets warmer.

• Forty-six per cent have more of an appetite in the winter than summer; higher for women at 50 per cent versus men at 42 per cent.

Cold weather is a fact of life in Canada — it can’t be avoided other than by fleeing the country. But without the cold, Canada wouldn’t be at the top of the heap when it comes to winter sports such as hockey and curling. 

The lesson from the kids happily playing hockey at the community centre on an outdoor rink is that winter does have its pleasures and can be quite enjoyable when given a chance.