The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Being active and social still important during winter season, says expert

craftsthumbWinter is here and that means we can finally go speeding down the hill on our toboggan, have silly snowball fights, hit the majestic slopes and gulp down a heavenly cup of hot chocolate.

But the winter season also means multiple layers of sweaters, a puffy winter jacket, clunky boots, thick gloves, scarves and toques. It means sleet, slush and snow on the roads then fighting for a parking spot at the mall during the Christmas rush. This often makes people want to stay in, sleep all day and avoid extra activities; something often called the "Winter Blues".

However, Patricia Kostouros, associate professor in Child and Youth Studies at Mount Royal University, says that it is possible for the "Winter Blues" to develop into Seasonal Affective Disorder. Also known as SAD, this type of depression is usually triggered by the shortening of days during winter months, disappears around April and reappears again the next winter season.

The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that SAD affects two to three percent of Canadians. Symptoms usually include lethargy, weight gain and social withdrawal.

snowboardingThe winter season means snowboarding and skiing are back. Many may be tempted to stay inside but expert, Patricia Kostouros, says to get outside and embrace winter. Photo courtesy of Deja LeonardKostouros recommends activities that combine social, mental and physical aspects which get you out of the house, thinking and interacting with others.

Positive changes need to be made in one's life in order to prevent SAD, she says. Whether they are changes as easy as opening the blinds and eating more protein, or more complicated as therapy and medicine, changes need to be made.

Kostouros says: "It's an engagement process. If you're stimulating your brain, particularly the social aspect, then you're more likely to want to be more social. The more you don't do anything, the more you want to do nothing."

So here are five expert-approved tips to help you stay active and social this winter season, and help prevent the onset of SAD.

Get chatty

Attend community events and meet your neighbours. With loads of community Christmas craft sales going on this season, you're sure to meet a few new people, find some creative gifts and get your Christmas shopping list done. Plus, you'll avoid the holiday mall hustle.

You can also join or start a book club. You'll be able to finally read that book you bought six months ago but still be able to socialize. And instead of meeting at someone's house, meet at a nearby coffee shop.

Kostouros says social activities are important because, "it allows you to not get caught in the whirlpool, swirling, downward spiral of becoming what the disorder says you are. It keeps you hooked into the world."

Keep a healthy diet

Kostouros adds that a healthy diet will make it easier for people to be active.

"If people are eating more natural foods, their bodies are just going to run better," she says. "And if they're not feeling sluggish, they're more likely to get off the couch."

So with lots of potluck parties happening this holiday season, try a healthy new recipe and bring it to a potluck. You can then swap recipes. Or you can try a new restaurant with your friends every few weeks.

And if you've been wanting to transition into organic foods, you can finally make the switch.

Laugh

"When you are with other people and you're having fun and you're laughing, laughter increases a certain chemical in your brain. And that combats the depression-chemicals," says Kostouros.

You can watch a funny movie or better yet, go to a comedy club. There are even comedy workshops and improvisation classes you can sign up for.

It can also be as simple as reading the Sunday comics.

Explore the city

A 2010 British study suggests that those who engage in light and intense leisure activities have lower rates of depression. It even suggests that the social benefits of physical activity may be more important than the biological benefits.

So instead of staying in and watching The Polar Express for the 18th time, enjoy the winter activities. Skate at Heritage Park, stroll through Zoo Lights or head to Canada Olympic Park for some good ol' skiing and snowboarding. And if you don't know how, sign up for a few lessons.

"Use the winter," says Kostouros.

Give to charity

There's no more perfect time to give than the holidays. That means not just donating your money, but your time and belongings.

Pick an organization to volunteer with and bring the whole family. You can also create care packages with friends and family then donate them to charities, shelters or food banks.

If you've got a roommate, agree to go through each others' closets, swap clothes then donate any unwanted items.

"When we're engaged with other people and we're being helpful or giving or supporting, we feel good. And feeling food can combat (depression)," says Kostouros.

For more information on depression, visit Canadian Mental Health Association's website at www.cmha.calgary.ab.ca.

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