'Thrill of the chill' can keep your spirits high during the winter

'Thrill of the chill' can keep your spirits high during the winter

Sure, cold temperatures and snow can be a deterrent to going outside during the winter, but it doesn't mean you should hunker down indoors for the entire season.

In fact, Canadians are encouraged to spend time outdoors often so they can experience everything nature has to offer during the cold months. This is why the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF)'s Below Zero campaign is so timely. It offers a wide range of activities for people to remain active outdoors and stay connected to nature.

SEE ALSO: Canada’s 'biggest winter playground' offers a connection to nature

David DeRocco, senior manager of marketing and events for CWF, told The Weather Network in 2022 that Below Zero had its origins as an outdoor- and environment-focused educational initiative. CWF offered it to teachers looking for ways to connect youth to conservation issues during the winter.

“We’ve since it expanded it in January and February because all Canadians living in the Great White North have to deal with winter. It’s a great opportunity for us to encourage people to experience what we call the ‘thrill of the chill,’” said DeRocco.

Feb20 Snowshoe Nicole Webster Nick Butt Huntsville/CWF
Feb20 Snowshoe Nicole Webster Nick Butt Huntsville/CWF

(Canadian Wildlife Federation)

This year's theme is 'Adaptable Animals'

To combat cabin fatigue, as part of the Below Zero campaign, the CWF has numerous ways for people to be more active including a list of 50 fun things to do outside including skating, snowshoeing and skiing, among others.

The theme of the initiative this year is "Adaptable Animals," DeRocco said. Both humans and wildlife have to adapt in their own unique ways to survive winter. An important aspect of human survival is geared to our mental health and how important it is to get outside during the winter months.

"Adapting to winter and enjoying the positive aspects of nature connection helps improve our mental health in the dog days of winter. It’s important for people to experience the thrill of the chill by getting outside, soaking up some winter sunshine, and connecting with nature," said DeRocco.

During the winter months, many of us will "cocoon and isolate inside," he said, noting it was particularly more common during rotating COVID-19 lockdowns. One of the best ways to "change that mood and inspire yourself" is to get outside and connect with nature.

Mountain/Canadian Wildlife Federation
Mountain/Canadian Wildlife Federation

(Canadian Wildlife Federation)

"The benefits of connecting directly with nature around the year are well documented," said DeRocco.

"We’ve all experienced winter blues or cabin fever. All these are indicative signs of what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It really is a biological condition that produces depression-like symptoms and it’s primarily caused by lack of exposure to natural sunlight and natural vitamin D."

During the pandemic, CWF found that more people were engaging with nature to avoid staying indoors due to businesses being closed from the lockdowns, DeRocco explained.

"There's so much space in Canada to do that, but particularly in January and February. That's the focus of Below Zero. We know it's cold outside...but you can still bundle up and get outside, and reap the benefits of connecting with nature," said DeRocco.


The CWF senior manager of marketing and events noted there are four "real key elements" to Below Zero.

Red fox vixen - CWF Reflections of Nature Photo Contest/Brittany Crossman/Do not reuse
Red fox vixen - CWF Reflections of Nature Photo Contest/Brittany Crossman/Do not reuse

(CWF Reflections of Nature Photo Contest/Brittany Crossman)

  1. You can go outside and explore. "Parks are open, trees are bare, there is more opportunity to see birds [and other wildlife] that stick around."

  2. Get outside and play.

  3. Get creative, and pour water on the snow and create ice sculptures.

  4. Becoming involved in citizen science.

Regarding the fourth key element, which is on the CWF's list of 50 activities, you can download the iNaturalist app at inaturalist.ca and use it to snap photos of wildlife, and share them with other Canadians and global scientists online to track biodiversity.

Snowy owl/Serge Chenard/Do not reuse
Snowy owl/Serge Chenard/Do not reuse

(CWF Reflections of Nature Photo Contest/Serge Chenard)

"You can turn a winter hike into a citizen science activity where you download images of any wildlife you see and upload them into a working database that scientists around the world use to track biodiversity," said DeRocco.

And if there is plenty of snow on the ground, don't let that deter you from taking a hike through the forest. You can still enjoy the scenery and perhaps see some wildlife that you can take photos of, he said.

"The more you use your iNaturalist and develop that sort of nature connection, the more you want to do it. You start to realize you're really contributing and becoming more aware of the world around you," said DeRocco. “It’s a real simple thing to do but a meaningful way to connect with nature while contributing to real science.”

Thumbnail courtesy of Pixabay/wal_172619.

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