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Preparing for Winter Wellness with Lived Experience & Recovery Network’s Kari Sterling

November 15, 2020

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As winter approaches and COVID-19 restrictions tighten yet again in Ontario, we know the risk of Canadians’ mental health declining is high. Cold temperatures mean less opportunities for outdoor socialization, the closing of more services and of course, reduced daylight hours posing new challenges for those who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) 

This winter, we’re speaking to peer workers from across our member organizations to understand the mental health trends they’re seeing and how you can better prepare for mental wellness during these colder months. 

Kari Sterling is the Regional Director of Lived Experience and Recovery Network – a networking body linking, supporting and educating all mental health consumer and family, organizations in the Northeast region of Ontario. 

Here Kari shares her thoughts on how winter is impacting the mental health of the communities she serves, tips on creating your own mental health plan and how to maintain an emotionally healthy staff through this season. 

What mental health trends are you seeing at your organization as we move towards the colder months? 

At LERN, I’m seeing that people are isolating more and not getting out. They’re feeling alone, lonely, lost and disengaged from their peers and programs. Some individuals are moving towards anger and hostility. Many individuals are saddened by the uncertainty of how much longer we’re going to have to go through this. I also see the loss of daylight affecting people getting out more and leading to feelings depression or worsening existing depression. 

What is an emergency mental health/wellness plan and why is it so important?

An emergency plan is your map to wellness in the event that your mental health starts to deteriorate. It’s not only important but necessary as each person is ultimately responsible for their own health. Having a plan and the supports, tools and resources in place to deal with a mental health crisis is essential to recovery. 

At our organization, these plans also keep our team well and thriving during stressful situations which are out of our control. They help ensure our staff and Board of Directors  are well enough to continue the business and operations of the organization – and, in doing so, help maintain the health of others. 

What are some examples of things that could be a part of one of these plans? 

WRAP and Pathways to Recovery are resources/programs that can be a part of this plan, as well as a wellness toolkit full of items that make you feel better and honour your journey to wellness. My mental wellness toolkit for instance includes spiritual cards, a box of affirmations and positive thoughts, a vision board, meditations, laughter yoga, wellness books,  outdoor activities in nature, indoor activities like dancing & yoga, candles, natural supplements, clean eating (no sugar, dairy, wheat or grains), herbal teas,  aromatherapy, nature, and a strong support system of family and friends. 

Other aspects of these plans could include designating individuals to provide regular checkins, a lamp for SAD (seasonal affective disorder), funny movies, comedy, pets, volunteering, or joining an online support group. It’s important to have supports and resources easily accessible at a moment’s notice– so maybe having a list of contacts available at any given moment to call or reach out to. Try creating a pact with someone that when things get really tough, you promise to call them. These things could be in a box and ready at any moment to grab. It’s also important to set up those conversations with support people in advance  (for example, sharing with friend that when a dive in your mental health occurs, they need to do “X”). 

What about your team’s wellness plan? 

We’re working to have more regular meetings (wellness check ins) to check in with staff, Board and members to learn any concerns they may have, how we can be of support, and to provide the tools and resources needed to help keep their organizations/selves healthy. We stay up to date and informed weekly with the situation we are presented with during Covid-19 and monitor these changes and adapt to them as needed. We’re trying be proactive and continue to work on a plan to offer the services and programming that will be of most benefit to our members during these changing times. 

Finally, any other words of encouragement for getting through these challenging times. 

Surround yourself with positive affirmations and know that this too shall pass. Remember all the times you were able to get through difficult situations and celebrate those moments knowing you can do it again. I have learned to embrace those moments, give myself permission to feel how I am feeling, and take that time to fill up my cup with self-care.

Looking for peer support in your area? Check out our member list for a local CSI or other peer support offerings near you.

Plus join our online event “Peer Support Strong” – a full day celebration of the power of peer support in collaboration with  Lived Experience and Recovery Network (LERN) and Nipissing Mental Health Housing and Support Services: Peer Support Services (NMHHSS) to connect with others in the field. Register with the password “PeersAreHere” today:

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