January in Canada can be a hard time for a lot of us. The days are grey and short, it’s right in the middle of winter, and the holidays are behind us, which can often leave people feeling more susceptible to the stressors of life. We’re human! We love sunshine, plants, and social connection, and we’re deprived of most of these things for about four months of the year.
I consider myself lucky to be a winter surfer, because it gives me something to get excited about once the weather starts to turn in November. But even still, I - and I’m sure many other cold water dwellers - fall susceptible to the January blues.
I’m thankful that we now live in a time where mental health resources are widely available online and on social platforms free of charge and in easy-to-consume formats. Whether they’re tips shared by friends or TikToks created by licensed therapists, we’re slowly getting to a place where mental health is more destigmatized and discussed with the same level of importance as physical health. In the spirit of human connection, I’d like to share some of these resources with you. Some of these tips are things I’ve discovered through my own trial and error that work for me, while others are resources I’ve bookmarked and go back to when I need them. It’s important to note that I’m neither an expert nor licensed in any way, I’m just another kook with another perspective hoping at least one if not all of these can prove helpful for anyone having a hard time this winter. That being said, here are some tips for when you’re feeling blue.
Make the most of the daylight.
Our winter days are short; it’s usually dark outside by the time we finish work, and sometimes it's still dark when we leave for work in the morning, which can be difficult for a lot of us. Since our bodies are biologically wired to sync up with the sun, it’s really important that we expose ourselves to light in the morning, so that our natural cycles don’t get disrupted. Exposure to sunlight in the morning is what helps us sleep at night, and vice versa. So when we go through these periods of shorter daylight, timing our alarm in the morning so that we can rise with the sun will help us keep our circadian rhythm regulated, which helps balance our mood, sleep, and immune system. Waking up a bit earlier so you can step out for a walk in the morning or taking a walk at lunch will keep you getting the vitamin D you need to get through the winter. And yes, even on cloudy days full spectrum sun is still there with all its mood-boosting benefits!
Start small with your self-care plan.
The worst thing you can do for yourself is to overplan a self-care routine when you don’t have enough time for all of it; it just ends up becoming another thing you’re not keeping up with. Start by thinking about the things in your day that make you feel at ease; write them down. Is it taking 5 minutes away from your desk to hangout with your pet? Is it a 15-minute stretching session, scrolling your socials for a laugh, or cooking for yourself? Are these moments you can plan out and actually write into your to-do list or your calendar? Adding restful and personal activities to your daily to-do list or calendar can make completing it much less scary. I promise it can feel just as satisfying to cross out “Eat lunch” as it is to cross out a work task.
Set boundaries that help minimize stress.
If you’re already in a bit of a down period, exposing yourself to the negative content circulating in the news and on social media is only going to make it more difficult. One of the most satisfying self-care tasks is going through who you follow on social media, and unfollowing anyone or anything you no longer align with or want to see. It will surprise you how many things you forgot you followed that may have been impacting you negatively. We spend so much time on social media that what we expose ourselves to directly impacts how we feel! Watch how much cleaner your mind will feel after you remove sources that you don’t like anymore. Additionally, consciously taking some time away from the news or limiting how much you read it will leave more space in your mind for positive thoughts.
Avoid unrealistic new year’s resolutions.
This might be a hot take but I don’t find new year’s resolutions to be particularly productive, especially not if they’re forced. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of facing the new year with positive plans and wishes, but the word “resolution” quite literally means there is a problem that needs to be solved. This can misdirect us towards focusing on what’s “wrong” with us instead of focusing on our hopes and dreams for the new year. A more motivating place to start from is instead of looking at what needs to be “fixed”, what new things do you want to try this year? What are you excited about? What do you want to accomplish or learn?
Familiarize yourself with helpful resources.
Now that we finally live in a time where we are surrounded by countless resources for mental health support, it can be a great task to compile the resources that really inspire you personally and keep them saved in the same place to refer to whenever you’re having a down moment. My “saved” section of Instagram is like a free therapy session; it’s filled with resources, tips, motivational quotes and animal videos, and whenever I’m having an off day I’ll scroll there for a while to re-up on some positivity. If you don’t have any saved down yet or aren’t sure where to start, you can follow @jackdotorg on Instagram, or head to their website to find some helpful resources here.
Grab a buddy and check-in on each other.
What are friends for if not to be there for one another? When I was in University my roommate and I would do daily check-ins, and sometimes hourly, when times were tough. It would help us both stay motivated to do what we needed to do, and it was fun to have someone to talk to and break up the day. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend when you’re having a hard time; chances are they might need a friend too. Having someone to touch base with frequently can help you feel less alone if you’re going through a difficult time, and letting someone know that you’re not feeling great helps normalize having open conversations about our mental health.
Most importantly: Be kind to yourself.
Stop being so hard on yourself! Winter is supposed to be a time of rest. Our bodies go through seasons with the seasons, and our increased desire for sleep, comforting foods, and slowing down is no coincidence. Guilt and shame will only make the winter harder. If your body is craving sleep, listen to that; if it’s craving more heavy foods, it’s probably because you need it. As long as you’re listening to your body and doing what you can to get sunlight, find movement, and reduce stress, everything will be okay. There is no shame in being affected by the seasons or in being overwhelmed by life. And just as a reminder, Spring is waiting for you on the other side!
Words by Isabella Heeney. Header photograph by Linus Nylund.
Joining our crew after 6 months of living and surfing in Ecuador, Isabella — or Isi as she’s known around the shop —is bringing her passion for journalism and storytelling to our team. A Toronto-born outdoor enthusiast, she’s settling here for a while to see how her Ocean-surfing skills fare on the Lakes, and when she’s not at the shop you can usually find her biking on Toronto Island. Find her on Instagram.