Staying Mentally Healthy During the Winter

Last revised: September 21, 2023

As daylight hours get shorter, it’s so important to check in with ourselves and our loved ones to see how things are going and to make sure we are using good coping skills to support our mental health   

  • For some this can mean getting back to good habits like getting enough sleep, being more active and eating well or developing new habits such as mindfulness to add to your coping tool kit. For others, this can mean checking in with the many supports and professionals we have in town to talk about our mental health and ways to manage through these challenges.   

Counselling Connect provides quick access to a free phone or video counselling session, available in English, French and Arabic. You choose a convenient date and time. This service is for everyone: children, youth, adults and families in Ottawa and the surrounding area. There is no waiting list. Support Groups also available: Free mental health and addictions support in a group setting. Available in English and French. Led by peers or staff.

Walk-in Counselling Clinic - 613-755-2277. No referral is required for the Walk-In Counselling Clinic. You will be assisted, with no appointment, on a first-come, first-serve basis during the Walk-In Counselling Clinic hours. The Walk-in Counselling Clinic offers free in person sessions as well as video or phone counselling services in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Cantonese and Mandarin at a variety of different locations. 

If you need support please call the Distress Centre Ottawa and Region 24/7 - 613-238-3311 in English or Tel-Aide Outaouais - 613-741-6433 in French.

What is mindfulness and how can mindfulness help you stay mentally well? 

Mindfulness is bringing our awareness to what we are doing when we are doing it. It is focusing on our present actions, feelings, physical sensations and thoughts. Mindfulness can decrease our stress level, boost our mood and improve our sleep.    

10 ways to be more mindful 

  • Visualization exercises Practice visualizing a setting you find relaxing like walking through a forest or lying on a beach.  

  • Mandala colouringThis is detailed colouring that allows you to focus on one thing and let other thoughts go. 

  • Mindful breathing: Be still and focus on your breath for just one minute, slowly breathing in and out. Focus on the path of the air as it enters your body, fills your lungs and then leaves your body. 

  • Mindful observation: Choose a natural object from your surroundings and focus on watching it for a minute or two. It could be a flower or an insect or even the clouds or the moon. Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time.    

  • Mindful awareness: Be aware of simple daily tasks. For example:  The moment you open your computer to start work, take a moment to think about your hands and then your brain that help you to use the computer. When going through your daily activities, take a moment to stop and be aware of what you are doing and the good it brings your life. 

  • Mindful listening: Select a piece of music you have never heard before. Let yourself get lost in the sound. Even if you don’t like the music at first, let go of your dislike and give it your full attention. 

  • Mindful appreciation: Notice five things in your day that you don’t usually pay attention to. These can be objects or people. Write them down and think about what good they bring to your life.   

  • Walking mindfulness: As you begin walking, put your weight on the left leg and begin to lift your right foot up. Move it forward and place it back down on the ground. Now put your weight to the right leg and begin to lift the left foot up, move it forward and place it back down on the ground. Continue walking slowly and pay attention to how the bottom of your feet and legs feel. Keep walking slowly, one step at a time. 

Adapted from Pocket Mindfulness and Living Well Mindfulness Exercises

For more mindfulness exercises please visit Unity Health Toronto: Mindful Awareness Stabilization Training (MAST) program webpage.

What are some ways to adapt to shorter daylight hours?  

  • Pick up an old hobby you forgot about or try a new one such as reading, drawing, painting, sewing, etc. 

  • Plan an activity you can look forward to such as: a call with family every week, a virtual coffee date with a friend, a physically distanced snowshoe, ski, or walk with a neighbor or a virtual game night with friends. 

  • Exercise regularly. Ask a member of your household to be your exercise partner or one of your essential supports if you live alone.  

  • Get outdoors and get as much natural sunlight as you can. 

  • Talk to your doctor to see what coping strategies are best for you (e.g. medication, vitamins, light therapy). 

  • Check out your workplace’s employee assistance program to see if supports are available through your workplace. 

  • If you do not have access to an employee assistance program know that there are lots of other resources available.   

  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Getting enough sleep helps us feel better. 

  • If you use alcohol, follow Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. 

  • Listen to your favourite music/make a pick-me-up playlist with your favorite songs. 

  • Let in the natural light. 

  • Get outside as much as possible. 

  • Have candlelight dinners. 

  • Soak in a bath with scents or bubbles. 

  • Enjoy hot soups or hot drinks or make your favourite winter meal. 

  • Talk to someone when you are not able to cope in a healthy way on your own. 

  • Check in on others – it may not be obvious when they are having challenges. 

Some people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter. What is this and what can I do to prevent this? 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is characterized by low mood and energy and can have a real impact on our appetite, sleep and concentration and enjoyment of life. 

SAD is “situational sadness.” It’s in response to something – and it’s temporary. During these times it’s helpful to focus on the basics: eating well-balanced meals, sleeping well and exercising (including getting outside if you can). And if you need support, there are many useful resources in Ottawa to help you.   

What is the difference between SAD and Depression? 

There’s a difference between sadness, which is a normal part of a spectrum of emotion and clinical depression. 

Depression is not “feeling blue,” it’s a complex illness that is not to be taken lightly. 

If symptoms like sadness, loss of energy, loss of interest in things and difficulty concentrating linger and prevent you from functioning as you normally would, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. And if you know someone who seems to be having these feelings, reach out and ask how they are doing. 

Most importantly, remember that whether you are experiencing a situational sadness or feelings that last for longer you can reach out for help or talk to your health care professional. 

Contact Us