The days are getting colder, shorter, and darker, which means that winter is officially right around the corner—and while most of us embrace the season as a time to get together with family, travel south to escape the cold, or to slow down and get bundled up and cozy at home, this year will be a little different—and perhaps harder to get through than previous chilly seasons.
Staying positive through the cold winter months can be difficult on a good year—but especially during a pandemic where socializing is limited and we’ve already spent most of the year at home.
Thankfully, there are ways to make the winter a little more bearable. Below, we spoke to three psychologists and wellness experts to get their top tips on how to stay more positive throughout the loneliness of winter.
From taking up new hobbies to avoiding comparing your happiness levels to others, here are some practical ways to make the most of the winter months during a pandemic.
Take on a new project (with an end date in mind)
“Think about a time-limited project (e.g., 2-3 months) you could partake in to help promote a sense of excitement, curiosity, and fulfillment,” suggests Dr. Supriya Blair, Clinical Psychologist and Owner of Dr. Blair Psychology, LLC in New York.
“Some suggestions might include starting a yoga program, remote work with a personal trainer, cleaning out a room/closet, or reading two books for leisure.”
Dr. Blair suggests using the winter months to finally start that gratitude journal you’ve been meaning to make a habit. “This is a crucial time to find multiple silver linings within this unpredictable year that could carry into the beginning of next year,” she explains.
In this gratitude journal, you might consider writing down what you have gained from this year: Is it learning about your own resiliency, strengthening family relationships, saying ‘no’ to people or circumstances that no longer serve you, cultivating a new habit or skill, valuing your time and energy, etc.?
Viewing yourself and your circumstances in a new light can often help release a sense of heaviness and overwhelm.
Foster a great routine
Having a consistent morning routine and a nightly ritual will be the key to getting through the winter, especially if you’re still working from home.
What helps contribute a pep in your step in the morning? Dr. Blair suggests getting in exercise in the morning, outlining your daily priorities, and making a healthy breakfast.
What feels calming and soothing at the end of the day? A relaxing skincare routine, lighting a candle or incense, and talking to yourself kindly before bed are all great options. Examples of this include something along the lines of: I did a good job today. Even though it was a hard day, I appreciate how I took some breaks in my work day. I value my own time and energy. I’m thankful that my family and I are safe right now.
Laughter is still the best medicine, literally
In a series of studies conducted at Loma Linda University by scientist Lee Berk, laughter from watching comedy shows was linked to statistically significant reduction in the stress hormone cortisol.
“The decreased stress along with an increase in infection fighting antibodies and immune regulating cytokines from laughter prove that a good belly laugh helps keep people happy and healthy,” explains Dr. Paris Sabo.
Get lost in the woods
The concept of “Forest Bathing” or Shinrin-Yoku in Japanese has been researched to elicit a psychophysiological response in study participants.
“Forest environments promote a healthy response by lowering cortisol levels, lowering the pulse rate and blood pressure, and lowering the fight or flight sympathetic nervous response,” explains Dr. Sabo. “Reduction in these stress markers help boost immunity.
Enjoy the change of seasons, step outside, connect with nature, be a leaf peeper with long walks in the forest this fall.”
Make love to fight germs
According to Dr. Sabo, making love boosts immunity, lowers blood pressure and improves the mood.
“Having sex once or twice a week, according to Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, has been shown to increase virus fighting Immunoglobulin A (IgA) by 30% compared to people who did not have sex or had sex more than twice a week,” she explains.
“IgA, which are illness-fighting antibodies found in the mucous membranes of organs like the lungs and intestines, have been shown to help stave off colds and flus.”
Keep it light
“A positive mood has been shown to increase the efficacy of flu vaccines especially in older adults, proving the power of our mood in controlling our psychoneuroimmunology,” says Dr. SAbo. What this means is that a positive mood increases immune boosting cytokines and reactive antibodies to help fight infections and keep you healthy. “So keep it positive!” she adds.
Don’t compare your happiness to others
“People should recognize the notion that some may have positivity as an innate trait while others must develop it as a skill,” says Eric Patterson, LPC, Professional Counselor in Western Pennsylvania.
“Being envious or jealous of those who have positivity will only hold you back!”
To begin, Patterson says it is essential to see positivity as a journey and not a destination. It is something that must be worked towards as it will not come through passivity. People must identify it as a goal and seek it out.
“Depending on the level of negativity, this could seem a monumental task, but if positivity is the goal, it is always worth the time and effort.”