Even in a typical non-pandemic year, the winter and holiday season can cause an increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Constant talk of the second wave, lockdowns and economic impacts of the pandemic is only exacerbating this.

According to a recent release from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 40 per cent of Canadians said their mental health has deteriorated since March, when the pandemic struck in earnest. Underrepresented groups, including BIPOC, LGBQT+ and Indigenous communities, feel the impact even more.

With travel and gathering restrictions in place, families and friends will celebrate with video calls rather than getting together in person. The lack of in-person gatherings is another kick to so many who are already down this year.

Staying engaged while we're isolating this winter is a challenge – one that local design consultancy firm Overlap Associates has taken on. The firm has long made supporting their team and the community's mental health a priority.

“In so much of our work, you see mental health come up,” said Brock Hart, Co-Chief Executive Officer at Overlap. “When we do employee experience projects at companies, mental health comes up. When we do work with kids, mental health comes up. Mental health just continues to be a theme in so much of the work that we do.”

In collaboration with CMHA Waterloo-Wellington, the Overlap team has started a new side project – Isolation Ideas. “We've been talking a lot about just Zoom fatigue, pandemic fatigue, and we were trying to think of something that also ties into what we do,” said Hart. Led by Linda Carson, Overlap's Chief of Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Creativity and a University of Waterloo lecturer, the Overlap team has come up with a booklet to give people a way to think of other things to do through the winter.

Hart said the Overlap team has been talking with their mental health clients and the CMHA to get information out to people around things you can do for self-care. “A lot of it's pretty easy things to do that are safe things to do, like go for a walk in the woods,” added Hart.

Many of the ideas and recommendations for the content in the booklet have come from the CMHA team. As a design consultancy, Overlap also found inspiration from their own team. You'll find ideas such as listening to an album from start to finish, rearranging the furniture in a room or sending postcards to faraway friends and family. Overlap will donate proceeds from purchases to the Linda Carson endowment fund at the University of Waterloo and the CMHA.

Inspired by the project, I asked our local KW Tech Slack community what they do to break up the feeling of isolation in the winter.

  • If you have a spin bike or bike mounted on a trainer, Zeitspace’s Mark Connolly recommends checking out Rouvy. “I've been doing indoor cycling with my bike mounted on a trainer. It's connected to a service called Rouvy to do beautiful video rides. Mostly in North America and Europe so far.” 
  • In addition to playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends via Zoom, Cass Arsenault recommended getting outside and learning a new activity such as cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. “Getting contact with nature is so good for mental health!” 
  • Winter can be a great time to start running. Yes, even in the snow. “You can continue running all winter with a minor outlay for appropriate clothing,” recommended Bill Gray. “Running in the snow is magical.” 
  • Go for a hike along one of the open trails at rare or check out one of the ideas for connecting with your team in this post.

If you or someone you know needs mental health or addiction help, you can call Here 24/7 at 1-844-HERE-247 (437-3247) or TTY 1-877-688-5501 for 24 hour, seven days a week support.