For many of us, winter can be a difficult time. Shorter days and colder temperatures can contribute to depression and social isolation as we hunker down at home. With the added stress of the pandemic, we may be looking ahead to winter with foreboding. Yet there are ways to sustain our wellness despite the wintry weather.
What can you do to keep well in the coming months? Here are some ways to not just survive, but thrive:
How we think about things affects how we experience them. In North America, we tend to perceive winter as bad and terrible, and the way we talk about it reinforces our unhappiness. Yet in northern Norway where winter is especially long and dark, seasonal depression rates are lower than expected. The reason? One researcher found that in northern Norway, winter is viewed as something to be enjoyed, not just endured. People celebrate the things that can only be done in winter. This positive wintertime mindset is strongly correlated with well-being.
I live in Winnipeg – a city notorious for its cold winter weather. Although our winter days are short, they are often bright and sunny, and the snow can be very beautiful. Winnipeggers who love their city don’t let winter get them down. We cultivate pride in our ability to live in “Winterpeg” and focus on the positive in our favourite saying: “But it’s a dry cold!”
What is your wintertime mindset? Reflect on the words you use and how they shape your thinking and emotions. Are you “stuck at home” or “safe at home”? Is it a bitter, cold day, or a sparkling, sunny day? What things can you enjoy in winter that are not possible at other times? The shades of blue on the snow, diamond-like frost crystals and icicles, skating . . . the list goes on!
Sustaining wellness during the winter requires some attention and different strategies, but it can be done.
What would winter be like if we adopted the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced “hue-guh”)? Hyyge is “a word used to acknowledge a special moment or feeling, alone or with others, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary but always cozy, charming or special.” Similar to the wintertime mindset, hygge includes actively cultivating those special moments or feelings.
Hygge was created by Danes to survive boredom, cold, dark, and sameness by finding moments to celebrate and break up the mundane. One way to practice this concept is to make simple rituals out of everyday events, such as using a special cup for your coffee and lighting a candle.
Having routines and structure has been shown to have a strong benefit to mental health. We have all learned in the past months of the pandemic that structuring our days and weeks will help us to adapt to working and learning from home. Routines can also help with adapting to the winter.
Established routines can be adjusted for the season – for instance, if you already have a regular family fun night, use that time to build a snow family together, bake gingerbread cookies, or learn to skate. New routines can be added, such as having a hot drink before bedtime, soup at every meal, a hot bath at night, etc.
You may also want to develop a new repertoire of comfort food and make it part of your regular mealtimes. Soups and stews can replace the barbecued meals of summer. Make your favourite comfort food every Friday night, or have a weekly “food discovery night” where you see how many different versions of mac and cheese you can make. Nutrition and routines are a winning combination!
If you’re having a tough day, acknowledge it, and give yourself some comfort.
For many people, social connections have been impaired by the pandemic. When we can no longer host socially distanced outdoor gatherings, we need some creativity to keep our connections alive. We all know about social media and video calls, but those may not seem like enough. Some ideas could be:
- Bundle up and go for a walk with a friend. Bring a thermos of hot chocolate, your own mugs, and stop for a hot drink along the way.
- If you can’t get together in person, take your video call outside and show each other what you are seeing on your walk.
- Start a snail mail circle – one person sends a letter, the recipient adds to it and sends it to the next person, they add to it and send it on, and so on until it returns to the original sender. Include physical objects such as photos, feathers, scraps of cloth, or whatever might have meaning for those in the circle.
- Put away the screens and get out the cards and board games for fun time at home with your family.
- Make relationships a priority. If homeschooling is causing stress, set it aside and focus on positive time together. It truly is not the end of the world if a student misses a year of school, but attention to your relationships can be a lifetime benefit.
Validate your feelings and needs
If you’re having a tough day, acknowledge it, and give yourself some comfort. Snuggle up with a warm blanket and hot drink. Read trashy novels and watch cheesy movies if that’s what you need.
If you are able, invest in warm boots and clothes and get outdoors. Even a short walk in the fresh air will be good for your body, mind, and spirit. Learn to snowshoe or ski. Play outside – make a snow angel, have a snowball fight, or decorate outdoor trees. If outdoor activities are fun for you, the cold will not be such a deterrent.
If you are unable to get out in the snow, ensure that you move as much as possible throughout the day. There are lots of exercise classes online, or just stretching can energize and uplift you.
Sustaining wellness during the winter requires some attention and different strategies, but it can be done. Winter doesn’t have to be a time of unhappiness and stress. Instead, we can take charge of our winter wellness and actively seek the beauty of this season. May you discover hygge this winter!
“Oh, the weather outside is frightful / but the fire is so delightful / And since we’ve no place to go / Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” – sung by Dean Martin
“If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.” – Christopher Robin
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