I’m normally an active person. All this changed in my first winter in Canada. I started oversleeping, became sluggish, and had constant bouts of the flu. Most of the time I felt like I could roll myself up in a blanket and stay in it for the rest of the day. Then, as it shifted to spring and summer, I almost returned to normal. However, sleeping became a problem. The extended hours of daylight messed up my circadian rhythm which made it hard to fall asleep.
A disclaimer: Not everyone is affected the same way by seasonal changes. Some will find it easy, others, like me, will not. But for many newcomers, it can be hard to cope especially when it is complicated by a rough job search, loss of the support of close friends and family, or working in a survival job.
While you can’t control the changing of the seasons, you can manage some elements around you. Here are a few suggestions:
Adjust indoor temperature
Slowly ease into each season by adjusting your thermostat. Moving from fall into winter, you may begin at your desired high temperature. As you and your family acclimatize to the cold, you can lower the temperature each week, both to feel comfortable and save on heating bills. Most Canadian households keep their average home temperature at 20 °C and 22 °C during day time (during heating season) when most members of the family are at home and awake. They adjust it to between 16°C and 18°C at night when household members are asleep.
Read Winter hacks every Manitoban should know for more tips on preparing yourself and your home for winter.
Watch out for joint pains and the flu
Doctors have found that changes in humidity and barometric pressure can affect those with chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis or Multiple Sclerosis (MS). They can experience some joint pains and spasms. Consult your doctor if you have these ailments. You may need additional vitamin prescriptions. The doctor can also suggest the proper home temperature as well as stretching exercises.
Other ailments to watch out for are flu and allergies in the fall and spring, and heat stroke in summer. Avail of free flu shots (as well as the COVID-19 vaccine if you haven’t gotten it yet) and take necessary precautions like masking up in crowded areas, and avoiding extended exposure to the elements or heat. The great thing is that in Canada, consulting your doctor is easy and it’s free. If you don’t feel well, ask the help of a professional.
Eat in season
Proper nutrition is another important element that can save you from the negative effects of seasonal change. While fast food, chips, and other junk food are tasty and easy to get, these have less nutrients and can be loaded with sodium and fat that your body doesn’t need. I realized that this was my main problem as liked take-out food (I did not like cooking). When I started watching what I ate, I noticed that I had less mood swings. It’s a great thing that fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables are available in Manitoba all year round. Not only can they help lift up your mood, they can also strengthen your immunity, and they’re cheaper too. For example, root vegetables and squashes are plentiful in winter. These provide Vitamin D (especially helpful when you don’t get much sun). Also get leafy greens and bell peppers as these are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants that protect you from a host of diseases.
Sometimes, your favorite dish is all you need to lift your spirits. The great thing is that you may be able to cook it here. Manitoba has more than 70 ethnic food stores carrying items from many parts of the world. If you are in Winnipeg, download this pamphlet to know where to go: Where to buy newcomer traditional food in Winnipeg.
Being cooped up at home and inactive will make it harder for you to shake the blues away. Exercise activates endorphins which can naturally lift up your mood. Many people jog or walk outside even in winter. But if this is too much for you, try indoor exercises. There are a lot of YouTube videos you can follow. Check your community centre for safe activities you can sign up for. Or go the nearest mall and walk around (just wear a mask).
This may be caused by lack of sleep. Your sleep patterns can be disrupted when the season changes from spring to summer. Early bedtimes can be hard when there’s still light out at 9 p.m. (sun sets at around 10:00 p.m. in the summer in Manitoba). In winter, on the other hand, there is less light. This can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is a type of depression. Here are some suggestions to prevent SAD:
- Shine the light. If you feel that you might have SAD, try light therapy (check with your doctor first). You can even try them out at libraries all over Winnipeg. Find out about them here: Light therapy lamps in libraries.
- Get into meaningful activities. Having a variety of activities can tire you out and help you wind down earlier in the day. Get into arts and crafts, cooking or any other activity you like. Volunteer and be active in your community or at church. Being active will also lessen stress.
- Talk to other newcomers. Attend workshops and meet other newcomers. Share your experiences. Ask them how they are coping and get great tips. If you want to meet other people without getting out of the house, join our virtual Coffee Chats on Skype. Not only will you learn more about Manitoba, you’ll also improve your English and meet new friends.
Most of all, be gentle with yourself. It takes time to adjust because this is a major change. Don’t rush into things. The more you stress, the more harm it will cause your body.
Article updated October 26, 2021.
Sources: Controlling the temperature in Canadian homes, Statistics Canada; 10 ways to deal with change of season and time, Organic excellence blog; and The weather: Wreaking havoc on health, Elizabeth Heubeck, Web MD. All accessed October 26, 2018.
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