Winter brings a new set of challenges this year with the pandemic. Aside from coping with the cold and all the work that goes into settling, newcomers must also deal with restrictions on gatherings and travel. This limits options to explore their new home and acclimatize to their surroundings. This combination of isolation, cold weather, and less sunlight could also lead to loneliness, anxiety and depression.
It’s a tough winter this year but with a few practical coping strategies, newcomers can beat winter and COVID blues and start thriving.
Here are three simple tips to survive the COVID winter:
Take it from the Scandinavians
Scandinavians are consistently ranked among the happiest people in the world despite experiencing the darkest and coldest winters. Curious about this phenomenon, a psychologist studied how people thrived during long winters in Tromso, Norway, a land 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The sun doesn’t rise in Tromso for two months and yet its residents have low rates of seasonal depression. This is what she learned:
- Positive mindset. Norwegians think of winter as “a special time of the year full of opportunities for enjoyment and fulfillment” rather than a season to dread.
- They embrace the outdoors. They regularly went outside to take in and enjoy nature. Norwegians say that motivating yourself to go outside can be hard but once you’re out there, you’ll feel invigorated and refreshed. So fight the tendency to stay in (just remember to take precautions like keeping your distance or wearing a mask)!
- Dressing warmly is key. One thing they emphasize is dressing properly and safely. It is part of their tradition to wear warm woolen socks, leggings and use safety-focused reflective strips on their jackets when going outside. For them, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”
- “Hygge” (or “Koselig”) is a way of life. It’s on trend to be hygge nowadays but the researcher found out that for Scandinavians, it’s not only about fuzzy blankets or warm beverages. It’s more of a feeling of contentment or a sense of “psychological coziness”. This can be brought about by making your indoor environment special whether by brightening up your home with lights or gathering by the fireplace and sharing stories with your family.
Focus on the positives
A big part of creating a positive mindset like the Scandinavians is appreciating winter in your thoughts and speech. This can take a little practice but you can do it by training yourself to focus more on positive experiences every day. These can be simple things like noticing how fresh the air is outside or as one newcomer told me “how beautiful the snow shimmers when hit by sunlight”. Soon you’ll be noticing more good things rather than bad.
Of course, this does not mean that you’ll stop feeling the cold or start ignoring that pile of snow that needs shoveling. This simply means that you take control of your thoughts and consciously choose to pay more attention to things that lift you up rather than those that bring you down.
Make new winter traditions
Now is the best time to make new winter and holiday traditions. It’s a great opportunity to let go of what we don’t like about the season (for example commercialism and excessive spending) and do more of what makes it special. Here are some examples:
- Baking and cooking – This an activity that is sure to bring hygge in your home. Cook and bake traditional holiday foods from your home country and bring back memories of your childhood. It’s the perfect time to involve your kids while they’re at home. They’ll learn how to make the goodies themselves and learn about their heritage at the same time.
- Start charitable projects – Kindness and compassion are sorely needed this time of year. Good deeds like donating to a foodbank or clearing snow from your neighbour’s yard make a big difference. Doing these will make you feel good too. Encourage your kids to participate by making care packages or sponsoring a Christmas hamper.
- Learning a winter sport – Make your outdoor adventures more exciting by learning how to ice skate or ski. If these are too much for you, tobogganing in your backyard would be a fun exercise. Now is the perfect time to explore open outdoor recreation and park amenities. Check the City of Winnipeg’s winter recreation portal. Meanwhile, both Asessippi Ski Resort and Holiday Mountain are set to open by the third or fourth week of December (check their websites for opening dates and public health measures).
- Keep holiday parties within your bubble – Postpone travel for now and scale down your celebrations. Let’s help prevent another spike in cases by keeping gatherings within members of your household. Keep in touch with friends and family who are across the miles by inviting them to join virtual activities like games over Zoom or Skype.
Lastly and most importantly, keep in mind that this winter and pandemic will pass. Soon, we’ll be able to have large gatherings with friends, dine out and travel. In the meantime, let’s do our best to follow public health orders so that we’ll all see the end of COVID sooner, not later.
Sources: What Scandinavians can teach us about embracing winter, Kari Leibowitz, New York Times; 6 tips on maintaining mental health for newcomers during COVID-19, Arrive; and Research snapshot: Finding digital mental health tools during the pandemic: A synthesis of resources, PPSP and CAMH (shared by Marco Campana). Accessed December 8, 2020.
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