Our mental well-being tends to come snapping into focus this time of year in Canada. We love our country, but the long, cold, grey winters often take a toll on our psyches. And for those of us who live with depression, these winter months can be even more difficult.
That’s why it’s important to be prepared with an arsenal of methods to help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Professor Marilyn Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., is a counselling psychologist and the Program Director of the Counselling Psychology Program at McGill University, and, as such, something of an expert on the topic of mental well-being. She recommends a practice she calls “mindful walking” to help manage and prevent those less-than-sunny feelings.
“Mindful walking is the opposite of what you see people doing on winter streets all the time—head down, eyes closed against the wind, tense shoulders, as fast as possible to get out of the cold,” she says. “Mindful walking is about being aware, taking in what is around you, welcoming it, feeling it, paying attention to the full experience without judging whether it is good or bad.”
Fitzpatrick explains that mindfulness practices bring our thoughts and emotions into focus, which is important in the battle against depression.
“People who become depressed (seasonally or otherwise) generally have a lot of avoided thoughts and feelings,” she says. “So anything that allows us to engage with our thoughts and feelings openly and without judgment is helpful.”
To get the most out of your mindful walk, focus on noticing your surroundings, like the wind on your face and the cold on your fingertips, the particular shade of grey of the sky, how the air smells and how it feels as you draw in your breath, and the sound of the ice and snow crunching under your feet.
“It rehearses a way of being that allows things to be as they are,” says Fitzpatrick. “That can help people who are depressed to accept difficult feelings and experiences without all of the ruminative judgments of ‘This is awful. I’ll never feel better. I can’t do this.'”
So, tell your boss you need a break—for the sake of your health—and take a short but mindful stroll around the neighbourhood.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 31, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Instagram or Facebook, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.