03/19/2015 01:48 EDT | Updated 05/19/2015 05:59 EDT

Social media can contribute to the winter blues: professor

HALIFAX - People in storm-battered Atlantic Canada might be fixated on winter, but a psychology professor says tweeting about it isn't the best way to blow off steam.

Holly Seniuk of the University of New Brunswick said Thursday many people experience increased anxiety, depression, anger and stress during the winter months.

But Seniuk said expressing those frustrations on social media only reinforces the negative connotations surrounding winter and feeds into a cycle of negativity.

"People are spending a lot of time venting their frustration," Seniuk said from Fredericton.

"On the one hand, yes it's an outlet, but on the other hand, it's reinforcing this cycle of frustration and feeds even more into the frustration."

It's been a cold winter in the Atlantic provinces with plenty of snow. The region was still digging out Thursday after the second large storm in less than a week dumped more than 50 centimetres of snow in some areas.

In the Halifax area, a number of this season's snowfalls were followed by plunging temperatures and freezing rain, turning sidewalks and roads into sheets of thick ice for weeks.

Kate Harkness, a professor of psychology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., said engaging with people during trying times is important, but constantly complaining about the weather — on and off social media — will reduce your mood.

"It's a downward spiral," said Harkness. "Going over and over the stressors in your life or how bad you're feeling actually stimulates more negative emotion, which then stimulates more negative thoughts."

Seniuk said some people can become blind to the positive aspects of winter because of constant complaining on social media sites.

"The season and the snow evokes these negatives emotions and reactions because it's paired with adverse things like having to drive on ice and worrying about whether your kids are going to school," said Seniuk.

"We tend to focus on those aspects, but people should try to switch that focus to associate winter with some of the more positive things it can bring."

Seniuk said part of the solution for combating the winter blues is simple: put down your phone and head outside.

It's important to get sunlight and exercise whenever possible, she said, and tweeting something positive about winter wouldn't hurt.

"Try and focus on the things that are enjoyable about winter instead of the negative things," said Seniuk, mentioning activities like walking the dog or skiing.

Harkness said if you really don't want to go outside, make a point to get some indoor exercise, like taking a walk around your office building a couple times a day.

"Getting exercise inside is still going to have that mood lifting effect," said Harkness. "Get the heart going and that will get those chemicals going in your body and your brain.

"That not only helps alleviate a sad mood but it also has cognitive effects so it can increase your attention, your memory, your focus and your motivation."

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