The sun set in Halifax at 4:41 p.m. today. Skies are increasingly grayer and days shorter. Winter has its icy grip around Halifax’s neck.
The five-minute walk from my apartment to the grocery store, where I work, used to be filled with sunlight. There were chirping birds and happy people out and about enjoying the warm weather.
Now, the air is frigid, people are few and far between and it feels like the birds (save the city pigeons and crows) have flown south. My mornings are filled with eerie silence.
The transition to winter darkness
In the summer, I was filled with light and life, inspired by the vitality of nature. But in the winter, I’m faced with a deep melancholy.
Everything around me seems hostile and unwelcoming. People rush between buildings, trying to outrun the world. It feels like we are moving further away from the life-giving sun and into cold and endless space.
Alright, that’s pretty dramatic, but that’s how I feel some of the time during winter.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects between 0.5 and three per cent of people and 10 to 20 per cent of people with major depressive disorders. According to a study from 2020 in The Journal of Affective Disorders, college students are at higher risk of SAD because of nocturnal studying and socializing habits.
We associate post-holiday winter with shovelling snow, frostbitten hands, schoolwork, flu season and an absence of social events. Some of this is an inevitability. Winter will always be dark and cold. However, these problems also present new possibilities for us.
Making light of a dark situation
During winter, the weather forces us to stay inside more. For some of us, this might feel like being imprisoned in our own apartments, a reminder of our COVID-19 lockdown days not long ago. We can break out of this prison by adopting a different mindset.
I like to try new activities during the winter to keep my life interesting. It’s New Year’s resolution season after all.
Go to the library and find some books to read. Play board games with friends. Practice meditation or yoga. Work out. Learn a new skill or language. Get better at cooking. This is all stuff I’m interested in that can be done in my own apartment. Maybe not the workout one for me, but some people have home gyms, right?
There are options for fun, fulfilling activities that exist in the void of the Halifax winter.
You don’t have to limit yourself to indoor activities.
As a kid, I spent a ton of time outside in the winter, making snowmen, having snowball fights, sledding or exploring the icy forests. These activities are still a lot of fun, even for university students.
Though it is cold, there’s a certain serenity to the winter air that is beautiful.
When I visited my family over Christmas, I spent some time walking alongside the river in the woods behind my house. It was frozen over, but the water was still running under the ice. I could see it through the cracks.
Summer is occupied by the buzz and bustling of animals and plants, but in their absence, you can hear the message of the Earth. It’s telling us to pause and reflect, to slow our pace and calm down.
I think a lot of people hate winter because they love that rush. The beach trips and late nights of summer. Everything moves so fast and it’s fun. But it’s over in a blur.
Winter forces us to stop and think.
There is no background noise, none of the cheerful ambience from the Earth that we hear in the summer. It’s just you and the life you live, and it’s here for a few more months yet.
For some people, this boredom is terrifying. I think it’s pretty exciting. Well, maybe not exciting, but peaceful.
If you shoot for a fun, exciting winter akin to the feelings of summer, it’s probably going to be a letdown. Try shooting for peace and calm. Find your winter balance and take care of yourself.
Those at risk of seasonal affective disorder should contact 811 to speak to a medical professional in Nova Scotia. For deaf and hard-of-hearing students, the video relay can be reached at 1-866-770-7763. Dalhousie Mental Health Services also offers same-day counselling in-person or virtually Monday to Saturday. Book online or by calling 1-902-494-2171.