… and we will be okay!
I have been counseling clients lately with increasing anxiety and despair as we head into the winter and also another wave of the pandemic. Fears of a lockdown, dread of isolation, overwhelm about homeschooling while working from home and fewer social supports, and valid health concerns abound. When I say “we will be okay,” I don’t mean that these fears and worries are unreasonable; I mean that we can handle whatever comes our way, and the more we can shift our mindset in this way, the more okay we will be regardless of the challenges we will face.
The keys to this mindset shift require replacing our thinking, developing helpful habits, and planning creatively.
Replace your thoughts:
Our thoughts write the narrative that determines much of our felt experiences. If you think this winter will be awful, it will be hard to enjoy positive moments when they inevitably occur. Even when things are awful, good moments happen- we have moments of success, delicious meals, nice conversations, and so on. We can’t negate awfulness but we can contextualize it into a more positive narrative and give more attention to the positives: “Things are really hard right now, and it makes me really appreciate my partner” instead of “Everything is so hard right now.” What we focus on becomes how we feel. I have encouraged clients to remind themselves of their resilience as they think forward: “I got through March 2020, so I can handle whatever comes my way.” Focusing thoughts on positive experiences and our positive attributes makes it possible to feel okay during difficult times. Start noticing your thoughts as you go through your day, and notice whether they have a more negative or positive tone. If this is a challenge area for you, try setting an intentional thought to repeat to yourself during the day, like “I am strong” or “I can handle it.”
Advice into Action- Take a piece of paper right now and draw a line down the middle. On the left side, list all the negative thoughts you have about this winter. On the right side, write a list of helpful, empowering, productive, or optimistic thoughts.
Develop helpful habits:
Take an inventory of what you are spending time on each day. Most people have seen their screentime use go through the roof during the pandemic. If we have multiple hours a day for this very unhelpful habit (because outside of our screen use for work or school, let’s be honest- between tv, phone, and ipad, screens have become huge timesucks), we have 30 minutes a day for helpful habits. I have challenged my clients to create a habit of doing some type of self-care for 30 minutes a day: yoga, walking, a HIIT workout, a guided meditation, or some combination of these each day. When this is a daily habit, you have a calm anchor point each day- habits like these give us structure, predictability, and comfort, which are all in short supply these days. In particular, the activities I listed are helpful for mind-body connection. At a time where we are all feeling disconnected from others, it can be easy to feel internally disconnected; mind-body activities build a greater sense of internal connection, which helps us feel healthier and happier in our day to day life. I have yet to meet someone who felt like their yoga, meditation, or exercise habit was a waste of time!
Advice into Action: Commit to building a daily habit for yourself, and see how it affects you a month from now – choose the activity and the length of time and set it on your calendar with a daily reminder. Social accountability helps- post about it or have a friend participate with you! Apps like mapmyrun allow competitions with friends, or Headspace app has a “streak” feature to help keep you going.
Use your creativity
Make some creative plans. I don’t just mean being creative by doing craft projects, although that’s great. I mean to think outside of the box. Anyone who is bored right now is choosing to be. Anyone feeling trapped in their homes is mostly trapped by their own thoughts. Not being able to do things the way we did a year ago (or hopefully will be doing things a year from now) does not mean we can’t do anything. Get creative with your plans: host a zoom murder mystery dinner or online game night with friends, plan a camping trip with social distancing, go for socially distant walks with a friend, make a scavenger hunt in the backyard for the kids. One of my friends has picked a different country for recipe inspiration each week, another goes to weekly online meditation classes, and I’ve been going to online trivia on saturday nights since april. Plan ahead and get some fun things on the calendar to look forward to this winter: online ‘secret santa’ with friends (elfster.com helps with this), make an indoor family “Winter Olympics” with some silly challenges, or set up a cookie exchange with friends. Do not limit yourself because of the social distancing limitations; make new ways to have fun and stay connected.
Advice into Action: Plan ahead and get at least three weekend activities for this winter, and begin sending invites, buying supplies, or setting it on your family calendar.
By shifting our thinking, having healthy habits, and making creative social plans, we can go into these difficult winter months feeling more optimistic, calm, and connected. A positive mindset doesn’t change world events, but changing our experience is empowering and models resiliency for our children. So yes, winter is coming… and we will be ok!