A winter lockdown is going to be hell for Ontario women's mental health, according to one specialist.

Dr. Karen Abrams, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Department of Psychiatry, believes the upcoming season will take a high toll on women's wellbeing.

Narcity spoke with Abrams about what a winter lockdown could mean for women, and what steps can be taken to avoid crises.

Editor's Choice: Toronto Is Already Shutting Down A Bunch Of Activities Due To The Second Wave Of COVID-19

How will a winter lockdown be different when it comes to women's mental health?

Abrams believes the colder weather will bring new challenges to women's mental wellbeing.

"At least when it was summer, people could go outside easier to release some stress that way."

"People are going to be very reluctant to go out when it's really cold, so they're stuck in the house even more."

Not only will weather impact women's mental health, but it could get in the way of individuals seeking help.

If a woman is in an abusive relationship, for instance, they may be less likely to go outside for help, whether it's to a shelter, a therapist, or even just to make a private phone call for assistance. 

This is especially dangerous, Abrams says, because women may also be unable to speak freely in virtual therapy sessions or crisis calls because their spouses are right there in the same room. 

"I go into the office once and a while for patients in person," she says. "But that might stop completely if there's a total shut down again."

How has the pandemic already impacted women's mental health?

"The burden is often still left to the woman," Abrams said, explaining that even in 2020 many women have more childcare, work, and relationship responsibilities to juggle than men.

And now there are even fewer outlets for stress relief.

"In lockdown, they can't go to see their friends and go to the gym and go out for entertainment," Abrams says.

"I've seen a lot more depression, a lot more anxiety, a lot more stress and burnout. People are really feeling the mental health effects of it."

What are the steps women can take for their mental wellbeing this winter?

In a time when women are stretched between numerous responsibilities at home, Abrams suggests separating work and home life.

"Sometimes it's hard to separate work from home," she says, "so trying to still take off time, keep some boundaries, or exercise and meditation have been helpful to some people."

Abrams says that staying connected is the most important way to help your mental health, and suggested that Zoom parties, scheduled calls, and FaceTiming are all great for social connectedness. 

She also encourages women to practice self-care by partaking in activities such as yoga, meditation, exercise, and using wellness apps.

"Psychologically, it's a lot about managing expectations," she says. "Not having the same standards of doing things, expecting uncertainty, and being flexible can really help."

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