The Winter of Our Discontent is the title of John Steinbeck’s last novel, published in 1961, and drawn from the first line of Shakespeare’s Richard III.
However, what I’m referring to is something entirely different.
I’m talking about the remaining winter months and how we’ll keep our sanity amidst more possible lockdowns and quarantines. For those of us living in cold climates it poses new challenges. Gone are the days when we could safely and comfortably gather or move about outside. Snow and ice will affect that ability to some degree.
I reluctantly cancelled Thanksgiving, as well as my usual trip to Florida for Christmas. Disappointing as that is, how could I not? Covid is out of control and promises to get worse, due to people traveling in higher numbers to share the holidays with their families. The risk is much too high. The numbers are through the roof and our frontline medical personnel need us to make the right choices.
When I saw a videos of airports crowded with holiday travelers, it reinforced the decision. Also, the emerging variants are a new threat. However, the best way to ensure there’ll be more family gatherings in the future is to stay home now.
So, as we navigate this cold, dark winter season, with all its pandemic uncertainty, I began to wonder: can we not only survive, but actually thrive?
I believe it’s possible if we utilize our time wisely. But, there’s definitely things we should and shouldn’t do.
Things to Avoid
To catastrophize is to view something as worse than it is. Considering the current statistics, this is hard NOT to do. However, a true catastrophe is something we have no control over. An earthquake is a good example. Usually widespread and sudden, this force of nature causes tremendous destruction for which we can’t do much about.
Likewise, the pandemic occurred without much warning and is running rampant, but we definitely have some control. And this is what we must focus on: masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing, etc. Feelings caused by a loss of control are always negative. Therefore, we should concentrate on the positive steps necessary to stay healthy. This way we regain some control over the ongoing threat of getting sick.
News reports, people, and social media are all sources of negativity. While we shouldn’t ignore what’s happening, it’s important to limit our exposure. Stress releases the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream and a steady diet of this produces many unhealthy responses.
Constantly checking news and social media is time that could be spent in more productive ways. The videos and images that accompany the reports are equally frightening.
Negative people are the ones to avoid, if possible. Better to surround yourself with those who remain optimistic. Their resilience is just as contagious as the pessimists and much healthier.
The pandemic has greatly impacted our lives and daily routines. Many people are working remotely and families with school-age children must balance both work and school responsibilities. Retired folks are most at-risk and are advised to restrict their outings.
With so much time spent at home it’s easy to fall out of one’s normal schedule. This may involve skipping the daily shower and staying in pajamas all day. Mealtimes and bedtimes can change. Housework is put on the back burner.
All of this comes at a cost. The structure and organization of having routines promotes healthier living. While we have to make adjustments, it’s important to maintain some continuity in our schedules.
During times of stress we tend to overindulge in “comfort measures.” Whether it’s food, alcohol, or something else, we reach for these coping mechanisms when feeling anxious.
The human brain is hard-wired towards reward-based activities. These are the things that release dopamine, aka the “feel good hormone.” We then associate the good feeling with the bad habit, despite the negative consequences.
Is it any wonder that we rely on these to get us through times of anxiety?
Research has shown that sedentary behavior and depression go hand in hand. People aren’t exercising as much as they normally would and this adds to the problem, as well. It’s important to recognize what our comfort measures are and work to avoid or control them.
Despite pandemic-induced limitations there are productive ways to spend our excess time at home. Projects in the “as soon as I get a chance” file are ready and waiting. Now IS our chance.
We’ve all got them. Between the basement, attic, and everything in between, there’s work to do. Whether it’s cleaning, organizing, painting, or renovating, there’s probably something you can start your list with. You may want to stick with DIY tasks rather than bring contractors into your home. If you do hire outside help follow the established safety precautions.
If you enjoy reading now is the time to set a goal. I have a list of classics that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I’ve also thought about pulling out my college biology textbook to look up some things that have become more relevant with the passing years! Or, maybe you have some favorite titles from long ago that are worth taking another look at.
Do you have unread magazines piling up? I recently gathered mine all together and organized according to title and year (yes, they go back to 2017.) I plan to read several each week and then donate to our local library, as well as any books I’ve finished reading.
Puzzles and Games
The sales of puzzles, boardgames, and crafts have surged as America remains at home. With long hours to fill parents want to incorporate more screen-free time. And it’s not just the kids. Adults are getting in on the fun, as families rediscover the types of connections from yesteryear. Remember those ongoing games of Monopoly that lasted a week?
According to Forbes the top three toy sellers in the US are Walmart, Target, and Amazon. These retail giants will likely survive the current crisis and come out even stronger. Unlike other industries whose retail accounts may close, toy manufacturers are positioned to do well.
You CAN teach an old dog new tricks and what better time than now? There’s many online courses to take and a wealth of subjects to discover. Sites like The Great Courses, Udemy, and Coursera offer a wide array of topics, some from leading universities and companies. Online courses are less expensive than in-person classes and some are free of charge.
If you need additional training for your job or want to learn a new skill, there’s no time like the present.
Gratitude journals, like mindfulness and meditation, have grown more popular in recent years. Guided journal sales rose 30% from January to April in 2019 alone. The prevailing wisdom is that daily reminders of our blessings create a more positive mindset.
However, reflecting on one’s life is a personal endeavor and the method may not be a one-size-fits-all. There are different ways to tweak this exercise. One way is to create a Power Journal that also includes what you learn, contribute, and accomplish each day. As the author you decide the format, frequency, what to record, and what to call it.
Photos, Movies & Music
Since cooking and organizing are the top “screenless” activities during the pandemic, don’t forget the boxes of pictures and media cabinets. Whether yours are stored in a physical space, or digitally, organization is an ongoing task that we often neglect. More time at home translates to updated playlists and camera rolls, or alphabetized DVDs and catalogued albums.
Outdoors & Nature
There’s nothing like a long walk to clear one’s mind. Whether on a treadmill or at the local park, exercise releases feel-good hormones needed to fight the negativity of the pandemic. This is a great time to enjoy our favorite music, an audiobook, or podcast.
And the type of exercise doesn’t matter. It can be mild, vigorous, or anything in between. Moving and increasing the heart rate can lift our spirits and outlook.
Similarly, being in nature has a calming effect. Think about the sound of waves crashing on the beach, or hiking on a path with a view of majestic, snowcapped mountains. Stimulation of our five senses has a dramatic effect on our mood, as well. Exercise + Nature is the créme de la créme.
When we look back on this extraordinary period in our lives, there needs to be some positives. Yes, we missed holidays and spending time with friends and family. There were moments of sadness and isolation. Our lives were interrupted and we had to adjust to many unwelcome changes. But, imagine what the pandemic of 1918 was like. No television, radio, computers, etc. Talk about feeling bored and isolated!
However, we should also remember our accomplishments and the wisdom gained. Little things like a clean, orderly basement, or how to properly wash our hands. And the much bigger things: learning to truly appreciate each of our days and those people we share them with.
Change can be welcome or hard, but it’s always inevitable. Maintaining an optimistic outlook helps us manage our time and perspectives in a much better way.
You must welcome change as the rule but not as your ruler. ~Denis Waitley