First Canadian Winter? A newcomer’s guide to staying mentally healthy

Julia Hornstein
Published: February 11, 2024

Winter in Canada can be tough. Temperatures can drop below zero and the sun sets early, making days cold and short. The shorter days and colder weather can greatly affect moods and overall well-being. Sometimes referred to as the “winter blues”, people can experience a wave of negative emotions that come with the cold, dark days of winter.

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According to a study done in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, about 15% of people in Canada experience winter blues, which can include feeling the need to sleep more and spending more time alone than with friends and family.

During the winter months, a phenomenon known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can take centre stage—a widely studied condition characterized by recurrent episodes of depression that manifest during the winter. About 2-3% of people in Canada experience SAD.

The seasonal change is particularly profound for newcomers to Canada, who find themselves grappling with the dual challenges of acclimating to a new environment and struggling with the isolating effects of the winter season.

Strategies to combat the winter blues

In the winter months, it is essential to recognize the importance of vitamin D and sunlight exposure. The Mental Health Commission of Canada recommends taking vitamin D supplements and even using light therapy lamps. These lamps mimic natural sunlight and can help regulate circadian rhythms.

Embracing the outdoors during the winter months is crucial, despite the added challenge.

Engaging in activities like skiing, snowshoeing, or even taking a leisurely stroll outside can significantly enhance your mood. The combination of physical activity and exposure to natural light has a positive impact on your overall well-being.

In addition, it is important to maintain healthy eating and lifestyle habits. Establishing a regular indoor exercise routine can boost endorphin levels, while maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet can positively influence mood and energy levels.

Discovering new hobbies can provide a sense of accomplishment and happiness. You can also break up the winter monotony by planning short vacations like a weekend getaway that can provide a refreshing change of scenery.

Finally, try to surround yourself with family and friends, especially during the holiday season. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 52% of Canadians report feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation during the holiday season.

If the winter blues persist and impact your daily life, consider seeking professional help. A mental health professional can provide support, guidance and strategies to help cope with seasonal difficulties.

Support Systems and Resources in Canada for Newcomers

Whether you're experiencing your first Canadian winter or simply feeling a bit down during this season, numerous resources are at your disposal. Here are some options:

  • Warm Lines for Casual Support: Accessible options for those who just want to talk
  • Youth Peer-to-Peer Online Community: For young newcomers seeking peer support
  • Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA): Local branches offer counselling and community programs. Visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal for more resources.
  • Suicide Prevention and Crisis Support: Call Talk Suicide at 1-833-456-4566 toll-free in Canada (1-866-277-3553 in Quebec) or dial 911 for severe distress or suicidal thoughts.
  • Support for International Students: Many institutions offer Winter Wellness events, crisis support, counselling, and cultural adaptation programs. International students should reach out to their school's international student office for tailored support.
  • Community and Cultural Groups: Connect with community groups for a sense of familiarity and community bonding.

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