When I meet someone new to Maine, my advice is always the same: Embrace the winters!

Phil Potenziano is the Superintendent of Brunswick School Department. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilPotenziano and Instagram Brunswickmesup.

This winter, that mantra is all the more important since – thanks to the worldwide pandemic – some of us have already spent the spring and summer more isolated than usual. And as the effects of COVID cabin fever stretch across the remaining months of 2020 and into the new year, so will the accompanying feelings of sadness, restlessness, anxiety and yes, depression.

In fact, a study from the Boston University School of Public Health reports that depression symptoms in adults have tripled since April – 27.8% compared to 8.5% before the pandemic. To compound the problem, gyms and fitness centers shuttered their doors and many people abandoned exercise routines in favor of comfort food and binge-watching everything from the latest new Netflix series to 10 seasons of crime shows from long ago.

Before the pandemic AND winter take their toll, pretend you just moved to Maine and somebody encouraged you to embrace the season. When our kids were growing up, we had a rule that they had to play outside every day, no matter the weather. Supposedly the saying “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” hails from Scandinavia, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it originated here in Maine. Whether you invest in new hi-tech snowshoes, dig out those ice skates buried in the attic since 1987 or organize a neighborhood snow people-making contest, there is something in a Maine winter that will appeal to your adventuresome spirit and help get you moving.

When it comes to keeping kids engaged and happy outside during winter, the key is keeping it fun. Some activities you might consider are organizing a neighborhood treasure hunt or building snow forts. Taking a stroll on the beach or through one of our quaint downtowns is a sweet reminder of the way life should be and what we hope will soon be restored to us.

Here are a few websites to get you started. There is winter wildlife in Maine and mainetrailfinder.com has detailed information about where to find it. Goeast.ems.com offers several short winter walks and tripsavvy.com has suggestions for more seasoned hikers. Winterkids.org is an organization in Maine dedicated to increasing outdoor physical activity for children and families.

According to helpguide.org, “Exercise can help ease depression, stress and anxiety. By finding new ways to get moving and stay motivated, you can take charge of your mood and well-being and regain a sense of control during this time of great uncertainty.”

Of course, don’t overlook the REAL benefit of a Maine winter in the midst of a pandemic: The chilly temperatures and icy winds make having to wear a mask a true bonus!

So, whether you are a student in the Brunswick school system or a student of life in Maine, make the most of the season by putting on your outdoor gear and heading out. And when you’re done, some comfort food and episodes 1-10 of your “new” favorite series won’t feel like an indulgence at all.

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