/Focus on mental health critical during winter months
Get on the right track for the darker winter months by making a plan to get outside and be active. /Submitted stock image by CMHA HKPR

Focus on mental health critical during winter months

By Nick Bernard

Winter – the coldest, darkest time of the year. 

Where the holidays can be difficult for many, the long trudge towards springtime can be even worse for those who have concerns about their mental health. 

With the prevalence of the ongoing pandemic and the rise of the Omicron variant, it can be easy to lose sight of any semblances of hope. Jack Veitch, manager of community engagement and education with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)’s Haliburton, Kawartha, and Pine Ridge branch, points the cause to COVID fatigue and overall burnout. He says that while caregiver burnout is common for healthcare professionals, he has seen a crossover of people reporting burnout over the course of the pandemic.

“It’s so easy to fall into this … thought pattern of ‘it’s never going to improve, it’s never going to get better,’” Veitch said.

He said the burnout comes from the loss of control that the pandemic has introduced into people’s lives. Veitch says one way to reassert some measure of control is by taking stock of daily habits, and practicing self-care.

“Trying to find the things that work for you, for your wellness, focusing on things that you can control,” he said. “So much of that is in my sleep, it’s in my diet, it’s in my … having hobbies, interests, a sense of purpose – routine, and structure.”

He also said exercise, especially in Haliburton County, is also an important booster for mental health. Even light exercise, he says, can help.

“What I do know about my friends and colleagues in Haliburton County and the surrounding area is they love being outside … especially in the winter. It doesn’t have to be like … going for a run, or an intense workout. Just going for a walk with snowshoes, going for a hike,” he said. “Even going out ice fishing, which I know is a big thing out that way is ‘okay well, I’ve gotta load up the snowmobile, load up the truck, I gotta get my stuff together, wake up, have breakfast, get going.’ All the little things that go into that sense of purpose.”

Veitch says that while there’s less light and fewer things to do, one of the benefits of Haliburton County and the surrounding area is the abundance of winter activities.

“Ice fishing, snowshoeing, getting out, going for the walk, whatever we’re going to do,” he said, listing off the various activities. “Doing those things outside that we can do to be active, they’re going to be great … I always say don’t think of exercise as going to the gym, necessarily. Think of it as being out and active and moving around.”

For those with mobility issues, Veitch said home workouts are also viable.

“There are things that can be done, even for those that have those mobility issues to help,” he said. He adds relying on hobbies can help fulfill a sense of purpose and control.

For those who are isolated and may have an absence of people to connect with, Veitch talks about the work of Peterborough’s Telecare Distress Centre.

“Telecare is a toll-free number you can call and reach out just to talk to somebody, just have someone to connect with and talk to again,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just as simple as that… It’s hard to meet new people, especially during COVID.” 

Veitch adds the Four County Critical Crisis line is for cases that are critical or urgent.

Inversely, Veitch suggested reaching out to individuals one might believe are isolated, just to check in and talk.

“Can I reach out and call somebody I know that might be isolated? Can I check in on an elderly family member, on a friend, on a neighbour, just to check in and be like ‘hey, how are they doing’,” Veitch said, referring to checking in by phone or outdoors. “Maybe again focusing on making that call to help out, that little bit of giving back or connecting just to check in with somebody else. It’s going to be helpful for them, and it’s going to be helpful to you and your own mental health.”

Veitch said that in terms of the pandemic, he’s still optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I really do believe that so much of this really is … about people coming together, being supportive in communities, working together to create solutions and finding ways just to help each other. And hard times like what we’re facing are some of the times we can find new ways to thrive,” he said. “Is there still light at the end of the tunnel? One hundred per cent.”

He said he was additionally optimistic because of the tools we have available to us that we didn’t have at the start of the pandemic, including safety measures and vaccines.

“Just because I have a step backwards doesn’t mean I can’t recognize the 15 steps I took forward before.”

Anybody who feels socially isolated can speak to someone through the Telecare Distress Centre of Peterborough by calling 705-745-2273. The Four County Crisis hotline can be reached at 705-745-6484.