Starling: Winter Blues?

Agency: Switchboard PR

Starling Minds is a Vancouver-based startup that provides online mental health assessment and mental fitness training. Their model is to partner with organizations who want to provide affordable, convenient mental health support to their employees. Starling engaged Switchboard to create an onboarding toolkit for its client organizations to use to promote Starling amongst its employees. After developing that toolkit and creating a communication strategy for Starling, I subsequently worked with them to create monthly digital content to use internally and to share with their client organizations. For that content, I would identify a topic, interview any necessary story subjects, then write the story for various media. Below is a blog post I wrote for Starling.

The leaves are gone. The heavy coats (and toques and scarves and gloves…) are back in rotation. The days are short – most of us leave for work in the dark, and come home in the dark. If the sun shines sometime in between, it’s easy to forget it. It’s winter. Though it doesn’t officially begin until Winter Solstice on December 21, many of us are already feeling it, physically and maybe emotionally.

If you’re feeling the winter blues (or Seasonal Affective Disorder, as it’s known by psychologists), you’re definitely not alone. The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that approximately 15% of the general population in Ontario is affected by some degree of winter blues, which is largely caused by decreased daylight and weather that makes spending time outside unappealing or impossible. Because of Canada’s climate, Canadians are particularly prone to the effects of SAD.

People vary in terms of how much their environment affects them. Like with anything else, some people are more sensitive than others. According to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a change in your physiology can affect your mood, thoughts, and behaviours. So, increased darkness or bad weather will affect everyone’s physiology to varying degrees. Similar to any normal curve, it will affect some people a lot, most people a little, and some people very little.

Most commonly, people feel more tired and less motivated and have difficulty concentrating and remembering things. While these are all symptoms of depression, experiencing them doesn't mean that you are depressed. But it could mean that you're sliding down the mental health continuum.

The trick is to be aware of how seasonal changes affect you and take preventative action to keep yourself from falling into a seasonal slump. A Starling assessment is a great way to track how you’re feeling and functioning; making a point of completing an assessment more often during seasonal changes or times of stress can mean catching a downward trend before it becomes debilitating.  

If you’ve struggled with the winter blues in the past, I would suggest taking an assessment every week or two weeks. Even if you haven’t been affected before, an assessment every month and/or during periods of change is always a good idea.

This strategy works at other times of year too. Knowing when you struggle with symptoms of, say,  stress or sadness and making a point of preemptively checking in with yourself on Starling can save you from becoming unwell. For many educators, back-to-school time can be a trigger; planning to take a Starling refresher in advance of that stressful time can help keep you on an even keel.

And for those of you who experience an increase in stress or anxiety during the holiday season, as always, Starling is here for you.