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Nature Conservancy of Canada Suggests Time Outdoors to Combat Winter Blues

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Earlier this week, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) commemorated Blue Monday by urging Canadians to take refuge in the outdoors as the latest wave of COVID-19 resulted in another set of restrictions across the country.

According to a report, the third Monday of January is the time of year in which the winter blues hit the most. It is observed worldwide to bring awareness on depression, anxiety, and those suffering from the winter blues.

The NCC is a non-profit, private land conservation organization that works to protect natural areas and the species they sustain.

“Canadians are continuing to seek refuge in the outdoors to help cope with the stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic. With another round of restrictions and closures being introduced in many provinces, the NCC says it is important for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being to connect with nature,” the non-profit shared.

Being outdoors, particularly during sunny days, can significantly impact a person’s mental health. The seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is a kind of depression with a seasonal pattern that occurs more frequently the farther people live from the equator, most typically during the colder months.

SAD symptoms include sadness, low energy, fatigue, losing interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite, weight and sleeping patterns, and social withdrawal.

The trails of Fort Saskatchewan have seen unprecedented usage throughout the pandemic since more people want to spend time outdoors.

The latest Ipsos Public Affairs poll conducted for NCC shows that 82% of respondents spend time in nature. Thirty-seven percent said they had spent more time outdoors than their lives before the pandemic starting March 2020. Of the respondents, women, youth, and young families were the most likely to spend more time outdoors.

“These findings underscore why protecting and having access to nature is important and helps all of us,” said Francois Duclos, senior advisor for visitor-use planning with NCC.

Of the 18% of those who claimed they were spending less time outdoors, one-third of them adhered to their province’s health protocols and stayed close to their home. The lack of access to nature was a problem for many who claimed they needed transportation or didn’t have natural areas close to their home. Others claimed they simply didn’t have the time.

“Many Canadians are turning to nature reserves, trails, green spaces, and parks for physically distanced outdoor activities. People want to connect with others safely or get out for sunlight and a walk, hike, run, or bike ride. They are embracing opportunities to get fresh air, exercise, feel a sense of calm and take a break from increased telework and screen time,” Duclos added.

In addition to time outdoor, people who struggle with mental health issues can seek help through provincial and municipal resources.

In an interview held in May 2020, Fort Saskatchewan Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) Director Tammy Lautner explained the pandemic’s impact on mental health.

“This is a challenging time for residents and staff, and it is affecting everybody in different ways. Mental wellness is always a very important thing, but more so now, during these challenging times, it is important to have a safe place to reach out and be able to talk about the challenges you’re going through,” Lautner explained.

FCSS has two registered psychologists on staff focused on short-term solutions for those suffering from anxiety, fear, or other mental struggles.

“Our psychologists help clients navigate those feelings and find solutions to help them cope,” Lautner said.

The center for online support for mental health support, www.comhs.health/ and the Alberta Health Services (AHS) website also have many online resources.

AHS recommends that families set aside time to introduce some structure to their days and develop a routine. Regular activities include mindfulness, physical exercise, breathing exercises, and practicing gratitude.

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