Is Blue Monday (the third Monday of January) really the most depressing day of the year? Scientifically speaking, no. What is very real, however, is Seasonal Affective Disorder, and so are the “winter blues.”
Canadian winters are hard enough. As the days get shorter, darker and colder, many people have less energy and a lower mood. With the pandemic stress added to the mix, this winter might be our toughest yet.
If winter’s got you feeling down, try to get your heart rate up. Physical activity releases “feel good” hormones and can help you out of the winter blahs. You don’t need to run to get a “runner’s high.” Any type of exercise can help boost your mood. Research shows that even 10 minutes of physical activity can help you beat the #WinterBlues.
Move to improve your mental health
Before we talk about how to improve your mental health, let’s make sure we agree on what we’re talking about. At the Canadian Mental Health Association, we notice that people use the terms “mental health” and “mental illness” interchangeably, but really, they mean different things.
Mental illnesses are disturbances in thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that are severe enough to affect day-to-day functioning.[i] Some examples are anxiety disorders or major depression, and by age 40, about half of people in Canada will have or have had a mental illness.
Mental health, however, is a state of well-being, and we all have it. Some signs of good mental health are enjoying life, having a sense of purpose, and being able to manage life’s highs and lows.
One in five people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year.[ii] But five in five of us have mental health that needs to be protected and promoted.
The good news is, there are things we can all do to promote and protect our mental health, and they can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
You don’t need to run to get a runner’s high. Any aerobic activity, such as powerwalking to the grocery store, climbing a toboggan hill or doing jumping jacks in your basement, pumps up your endorphins and floods your brain with feel-good chemicals.
If you’re feeling tense or trapped by your always-on monkey brain, movement can be a form of meditation, too. Ever notice how you’ve forgotten the stresses of your day after a long walk?
People who exercise report feeling less stressed or nervous, and regular heart-pumping movement can reduce tension, fatigue and anger, and improve your mood, your self-esteem and your body image. For even greater benefits, get moving outdoors! Recent studies have found people report a higher level of vitality, enthusiasm and pleasure after they have walked outside.
Move to manage illness
In those with a diagnosed mental illness such as depression, regular physical activity can even help treat your symptoms.[iii] In the short term, vigorous exercise that really gets your heart pumping can boost your mood after just 10 or 15 minutes.
And, if you get moving regularly, this trains your brain over time to help regulate your mood and can even relieve depression.
Ride the ups and downs of life
Remember: even if you don’t have a mental illness, that doesn’t mean you’ll feel great all the time. You might experience stress, a difficult life event, or burnout. Just like anyone can catch a cold or flu, everyone experiences the ups and downs of life.
So, there’s not just the one in five of us who have mental illnesses, and “the rest of us” who don’t. There is no rest of us. There is just us—all five in five. And regular physical activity can help all of us feel better, mentally and physically.
Are you looking for mental health services or supports in your own community? Visit www.cmha.ca to find your local CMHA. If you are thinking of suicide, please visit www.crisisservicescanada.ca or call 1-833-456-4566; in QC, call 1-866-APPELLE.
[i] Quick Facts: Mental Illness & Addiction in Canada. Mood Disorders Society of Canada