Winter is coming. How will you support your mental health?
Winter is nearly upon us and bringing with it the usual mix of scarcer sunlight, long nights, cold weather and potentially, the winter blues.
This year that combination could be particularly harsh as we head into the season already stressed after a yearlong series of anxiety-producing events. And, if the current trend of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, it’s likely we’ll be facing a long winter of social isolation and state-mandated restrictions on how we gather.
That means we all need to find new ways to support ourselves until spring comes again. Preparing now, before the weather and our moods sour, can help keep us mentally and emotionally well in the months to come.
Everyone’s winter survival kit will look different, but here’s a few ideas for including in your own.
Get outdoors anyway. We New Englanders are hardy types, at least as hardy as the Brits who live on that rainy island across the Atlantic. Nevertheless, this opinion piece from a British journalist who now lives in New York City is an interesting read and a compelling idea.
Terrible weather does not mean you don’t get to socialize outdoors, writes Oliver Burkeman.
If needed, Mr. Burkeman advises trying on the British perspective of not expecting your time outdoors to be dry or warm. That way, he says, you’ll be prepared for storms...and pleasantly surprised by sunny days.
Kidding aside, being outdoors this winter can bring many benefits, including the company of others. If it’s not something you’ve typically done, start to gather the winter gear you’ll need to make the transition easier, or find a friend with a fire pit or outdoor heater and plan your visits now.
Keep moving. Whether you do it outside or in, movement and exercise should be in your toolkit this winter, or as NPR calls it, your Life Kit.
Elise Hu and La Johnson, of NPR, put together a quick guide to staying well this winter in the form of a comic that is worth a look. On their list is advice to “Find a way to move your body regularly.”
Your future self will thank you, writes reporter Elise Hu.
If you don’t have a regular exercise routine, this may be the winter you start and maintain one, if only to reap the mood enhancing endorphins that come with it. Don’t wait until New Year’s to make this a resolution. Check out the many free options online, find the one that fits your requirements and get started.
Finally, use technology wisely. Whether we like it or not, most of us will rely on technology to keep us connected this winter. Doing it in a way that emphasizes the social nature of connecting can help boost the benefits of gathering with friends and family, and minimize the downsides of not being physically together.
One way to do this is to separate your work tech space from your socializing one, according to this Mashable article on, ‘How tech can help you thrive mind the pandemic winter blues.’
In the article, Dr. Lynn Bufka, the American Psychological Association's senior director of practice transformation and quality, suggests creating a separate space in your home for getting together with friends digitally.
"While the set-up might be convenient in your home office, if you're fortunate to have a home office, don't do your socializing in the same place...so you at least have a break between the two," she tells Mashable.
Dr. Bufka also suggests setting the mood to help distinguish between work and socializing, perhaps lighting candles or otherwise creating a more relaxed space.
These are just three possible strategies for creating positive experiences in what could be a difficult winter. Taking time to find steps that work for you is one way you can support yourself this winter. And, don’t forget to include your regular self-care steps that will help keep you well, like eating healthily, getting adequate sleep, and practicing gratitude and being kind to others.