Once the novelty of the holiday season comes to an end, the cold and gloomy weather that marks the first few months of the New Year might make you feel like curling up under a blanket and hibernating until spring. This year, that temptation may feel stronger than ever, as many of us will be bunkered down in our homes with our families under constantly changing public health restrictions. All this leads to a situation that can easily knock our mental and emotional well-being out of balance. We could all do with a little wellness in 2021, so we’ve compiled a few tips to help you make it through this challenging season.
Exercise is an excellent way to release endorphins and ease stress, but it can be hard to find the motivation to get moving while indoor gyms remain closed and there’s snow and slush on the ground. Challenging yourself with new fitness activities, testing out different fitness apps, or listening to a new album or podcast can add some variety to your routine and serve as a source of motivation to start moving again. U of T Sport & Rec also has plenty of engaging online resources to help you get your blood pumping, such as their MoveU Anywhere! initiative — a series of quick, high-intensity, body-weight workouts that you can do anytime, anywhere. These exercises are designed to engage people of all ability levels, and include dance, strength training, mindfulness, and yoga. If you’re a student balancing academic, professional, or caregiving responsibilities, this could be an easy way to squeeze in some exercise between Zoom meetings.
Another tri-campus option is U of T Fitness & Performance’s #UTRAIN program, which offers a variety of daily live and on-demand online fitness sessions that you can try out throughout the week. You can find their Winter 2021 schedule here, which includes mindfulness practices, pilates, HIIT workouts, and all kinds of dance parties that are excellent options for family workouts! Access to #UTRAIN Workouts is provided at no additional cost to incidental fee-paying U of T students.
Eat Nutritious Meals
If you feel a little less energetic in the winter months, eating a nutritious diet can help you feel more like your normal self. As many of us have been cooking all of our meals while indoor and outdoor dining options have been restricted or closed entirely, you might be feeling tired from having to find new recipes to try out at home. To help you in your search, Kimberly Green, UTM Registered Dietician, has curated a collection of recipes specifically developed for students who are looking for easy-to-prepare, budget-friendly, and nutritious meals to make themselves. On the UTM Student Recipes page, you will find simple recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks that are great for both adults and children.
For more culinary inspiration, UTM International Education Centre and Hart House are hosting a multi-session Taste of Culture series until January 28th, 2021, that aims to expand understandings of how food informs culture and wellness. Sessions are 1-hour long and will include a recipe share, open discussion, as well as cooking tips and tricks from a food and culture expert who will share a recipe that is significant to their culture and personal history.
Another resource available for students experiencing food insecurity is the U of T Emergency Food Bank, which is a free, contactless, food-delivery service providing students who are feeling food insecure with free food boxes containing produce for 2-4 people in a week. You can learn more and register for a box here.
Find New Ways to Connect
We all mastered the art of the Zoom call in 2020, but the routine of back-to-back online meetings for work and school can make the prospect of spending time with your friends over a video call a little less appealing. Sitting in front of a screen for work, school, and play can feel draining, so it’s important to find new ways to connect with friends and loved ones while we make it through these winter months. Here are three activities that we think would be great to try out this semester:
- Organize a remote movie marathon with a friend. U of T students have free access to Criterion, a movie streaming service, which can be accessed through U of T Media Commons. You could call a friend over the phone or connect through Zoom and talk while you watch, or come together afterwards to discuss your favourite parts of the movie!
- Make new friends at a virtual board game cafe. Board games are a great icebreaker that can help you make new connections without that awkward small talk. Now, you can enjoy games and fun through free virtual sessions hosted bi-weekly by Hart House.
- Embrace the world of online gaming and try out multiplayer video games. Online gaming can be a great new space to connect with friends while exercising your brain with a new strategy game. This semester, you can join the Hart House Student Ambassadors bi-weekly for a round of Among Us, a multiplayer game that drops you off on an alien spaceship to catch the imposter in your ranks.
Be sure to also check out our virtual Family Events on Campus! We keep this webpage updated with all upcoming events hosted by the Family Care Office throughout the terms. If you’d like to stay in the loop about all of our upcoming webinars and events, make sure to follow our new Instagram page!
Make Time for Your Mental Health
Dr. Norman Rosenthal, who pioneered research in seasonal affective disorder, emphasizes the importance of mindfulness and meditation in dealing with depressive moods during the winter. Practicing deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can have calming and restorative results that reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can help to have a hobby or project to work on in order to keep your hands busier than your brain and force your thoughts to slow down. If you consider yourself a crafty person, check out Hart House’s Get Crafty series which provides a free virtual space that’s all about making stuff and getting creative with supplies you have on hand at home. You could also pick up a fresh notebook and start a journaling practice, which can help you organize your thoughts and focus your attention to one area of life. Whatever hobby interests you, make sure it remains a no-pressure space for you to express yourself and recharge.
If you need mental health support, U of T has many resources available to you whenever and wherever you are. You can find our complete list of academic success and wellness resources in a separate blog, but here are a few resources to start with:
- Good2Talk is a 24/7/365 confidential helpline for post-secondary students that provides professional counselling, as well as information and referrals for mental health, addictions, and well-being. You can access this helpline through the phone or by text.
- My SSP provides students with real-time and/or appointment-based confidential, 24-hour support for school, health, or general life concerns at no cost to you. You can call or chat with a counsellor directly from your phone.
- Navi is an anonymous tool that provides you with information to help you navigate U of T mental health resources and make decisions about seeking appropriate support. Please note that this tool is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice, counselling nor does it make any diagnosis or identify personalized treatments.
While it can be difficult to keep your spirits up during these dark and chilly winter months, remember that this season won’t last forever. By focusing on your winter wellness now, you’ll be ready to enjoy the great spring weather as soon as it arrives!