Spring Mental Health Tips for Halifax Residents

Spring in Halifax, Nova ScotiaAs the weather is finally starting to feel like Spring, Haligonians are slowly but surely emerging from hibernation. After the rough winter we’ve endured, it seems as though many of us are still feeling its effects, both physically and mentally. In light of Mental Health Week, it is important to remind ourselves of the psychological benefits of taking advantage of the beautiful weather, getting outside, and getting active.

Winter can take a toll on us for several reasons; arguably, the biggest one being that people tend to stay indoors, which usually means more screen-time and less exercise. The physical benefits of exercise are well-documented, and over the past number of years there has been more and more evidence pointing to its psychological benefits (e.g., Craft & Perna, 2004; Penedo & Dahn, 2005; Stathopoulou et al., 2006). So how much exercise is enough? The general consensus is that 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, 4-5 days a week is enough to have a significant impact on your mental well-being. Also, that 30 minutes can be broken down into smaller chunks (e.g. two 15 minute sessions), and work just as well.

Another downside to staying inside is missing out on the benefits of being outside; as it turns out, being in nature is actually good for us. A recent study found that spending time in nature causes some changes in the brain that can help improve our emotional well-being and feelings of relaxation (Aspinall et al., 2015). This is also true for children, as studies have shown that having more “green space” and nature nearby is advantageous to children’s psychological well-being, including having higher resiliency to stress and adversity (Wells & Evans, 2003)

Another side effect of cold weather and shorter days is that we tend to not socialize as much; the prospect of meeting up with a friend for coffee seems a little more daunting when there’s 5 feet of snow piling up outside! And yet, the loneliness and isolation can contribute to feelings of depression and hopelessness that seem to outlast the weather. If this is something you’ve noticed, take the initiative to make plans with others; even taking a walk with a co-worker or grabbing dinner with a friend can help us feel more connected. Not sure what’s going on in the city? Online apps like Meetup (www.meetup.com) can keep you in the loop on different group activities and events. If these feelings persist, it might be time to talk to a psychologist or counsellor who is trained to help you overcome them.

A long, awful winter can take its toll on the best of us, and it’s important that we keep these points in mind year-round; it’s always good to be paying attention to your mental health. Now that the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, there’s no better time to start engaging in activities that will benefit your mental and physical well-being.

References

Aspinall, P., Mavros, P., Coyne, R., & Roe, J. (2015). The urban brain: Analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49, 272-276. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2012-091877

Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6, 104–111. doi:10.4088/pcc.v06n0301

Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: A review of mental and physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18, 189-193. doi:10.1097/00001504-200503000-00013

Stathopoulou, G., Powers, M. B., Berry, A. C., Smits, J. A. J. and Otto, M. W. (2006). Exercise interventions for mental health: A quantitative and qualitative review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 13, 179–193. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2850.2006.00021.x

Wells, N. M., & Evans, G. W. (2003). Nearby nature: A buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment & Behavior, 35, 311-330. doi: 10.1177/0013916503035003001

Katherine Wilson

Katherine Wilson is a Halifax Psychologist (Cand. Reg.) at Cornerstone Psychological Services. She works with adults and young adults (18+) looking to overcome mental health obstacles, such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, and also works with couples who are having difficulties in their relationship. Katherine also has a particular research interest in how mental health can impact social, familial, and romantic relationships.
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