Even though winter is remembered as the season of magical snowflakes, hot cocoa and warm crackling fires, you may be wondering if this will continue to be true under the guise of COVID-19. Or will this particular winter season tarnish that lovely nostalgia?
If we want to be really honest with ourselves, we know that even a normal winter with no pandemic can still present challenges: cold and flu, seasonal depression, holiday pressures and unbearable temperatures (at least to us Texans). Even with all of these shifts, I do still believe that we can have some control over our winter experiences.
As a therapist, I get to see people overcome their challenges time and time again. This is no different. Will it take planning? Yes. Do we have to be intentional about it? Of course. But this is nothing that can’t be done.
Here are a few tips to help you get on your way to an enjoyable, low-stress winter.
1. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
Okay, so you’re someone who usually has no problems in the winter months. You get the occasional manageable cold, your mood stays the same and you like cooler weather. Great! We hope that all stays true!
But, what if some of that shifts? COVID-19 adds an additional layer, so you might experience a little more stress than usual. That tricky question of a regular winter itchy throat vs. coronavirus may pop up and throw you off your game. Or you might feel disappointed that your regular winter-time activities are no longer possible.
Remember, it’s okay to feel a little differently this winter. Even though we want to assume things will go as well as they have in the past, be prepared for the idea that they may not — and that this is a normal reaction in not-so-normal times.
2. Have a plan for your mental health.
We have all experienced a shift in emotions over the last year, and this will likely continue throughout the winter. This is on top of the heightened feelings of depression and anxiety many people already experience during normal winter months.
Now is the time to start figuring out how you’ll manage if your emotions do take a dip. Have a therapist already? Perfect, keep seeing them. Want to find one? Start looking now, instead of when you’re in the middle of a hard time.
If a therapist isn’t your thing, figure out who your go-to friends and family are that you can talk to in a difficult moment. Lastly, don’t forget to recognize your own coping strategies, and make sure they’re available in the winter. Maybe it’s journaling, going for a drive or playing an instrument. Whatever it is, be prepared to use it.
3. Figure out how you’ll move your body.
Many people have found exercise to be a saving grace throughout this pandemic, and we’ve seen a lot of this happening outdoors. With temperatures getting lower, you might find going outside to be unpleasant, but don’t lose the momentum you’ve built up!
Even if it’s not intense exercise, you can still figure out a way to keep your body moving during the winter. Use some of your free time to research workout videos that you can do in your house (there are a lot of free ones!), or stock up on some simple exercise equipment like hand weights or bands that you can pull out when you need to get your blood pumping.
Moving your body often ignites movement in your mind, so for those of you who feel stuck in the winter, make movement a priority.
4. Expect change and be ready to adapt.
One thing has been clear since the pandemic began: nothing is 100% certain. This will remain true for the plans you make this winter, so approach the next few months with a flexible mentality.
Maybe it will be a warmer winter and you can still take your nightly walks (hooray!), or maybe there will be a crazy blizzard that keeps us even more locked up than we were (boo).
Whatever happens, remind yourself that you can make it through. It might even be a good time to start a gratitude journal so that you can remind yourself of things you’re thankful for during the harder times.
5. Identify your options for socializing.
While socializing may not look like the usual ugly sweater parties or holiday musicals, we can certainly continue to maintain a social presence appropriate for the times. But just because you won’t be at a big party in person doesn’t mean you can’t get together with friends and family virtually or have a celebratory drive-by party.
People have gotten very creative with virtual socializing, and this can continue as we sit at home in fuzzy socks and slippers. Take these festive ideas, for example.
As we continue to adapt to this new normal, remember that this winter will be a different experience for us all. No one knows quite how it will affect them, so don’t be too tough on yourself if things feel harder than usual.
Use your resources, keep your head up, and remind yourself that winter doesn’t last forever!
About the author
Eli Mandel, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and currently serves as a program manager of wellness at Baylor Scott & White Health. Eli has more than eight years of experience in the mental health field. In his current position, Eli helps physician residents and fellows at Baylor University Medical Center maintain their wellbeing so they can best serve their patients. He believes that true wellness comes through the fulfillment of multiple dimensions of life and that it must be approached with intention.