How to survive Winter and the COVID Shut down of 2021

Never before have so many people been feeling intense anxiety and stress all at the same time. While we went through a COVID shutdown earlier in 2020, this current winter COVID shutdown of 2021 may impact us more severely. We are heading into the coldest and darkest winter nights. Many of us are starting to suffer COVID fatigue. We have not had a break from social distancing, social isolation or a return to our usual “normal routines prior to the pandemic. How will we survive these cold winter months and the current COVID shutdown?

Here are 11 ways you can manage your stress, anxiety, exhaustion and overwhelm this winter


1) Focus on the things you can control

None of us know when this pandemic will end. There are so many things outside of our control, including how long the pandemic lasts, how other people behave, what’s going to happen in our communities, when will be have a vaccine, or if and when this virus will get under control. Endless worrying is not helpful. The truth is we have no control over many things in our lives. Trying to micromanage your kids, your spouse, coworkers does not work. Controlling other people does not stop bad thinks from happening and it does not reduce your stress levels. Endlessly worrying about what could or might happen is a waste of your energy as most things we worry about do not happen.

What can you control? All you can control is your attitude and what you choose to do. You can choose to acknowledge your fears and worries and challenge your thoughts and beliefs. You can control how you respond towards others. You can try to influence people but you cannot control what other people say or do. Going over conversations again and again in your head is not helpful. Active problem solving can be helpful or talking with someone about your worries can help as long as you are looking to problem solve and not just worry or imagine catastrophic outcomes over and over again.

You can control how often you go into public spaces and the risks you take. You do not want to be doing this daily but maybe once every two weeks as new information comes out. You can control how much negative news you watch. While it is important to keep current on events, too much negative news is overwhelming. Sometimes people can help but become news junkies watching the news or check updates every hour. Overdoing the news is not helpful.


2) Manage your anxiety

Many of us are getting anxious as we feel we have lost control over our lives. What has changed is what we considered to be our normal routine. We real never had control. We now must create a new normal for ourselves, and our children while we live through this pandemic. If you tend to be a super worrier and easily get anxious here are some tips on how to manage your anxiety.


A) Write down your worries and place them in a box

Many of us including our children and teens are experiencing added stress and disruption to their lives due to COVID-19. Create a worry box with a lid for anyone to store their worries. Write your worry on a piece of paper and drop it into the box. You may need to write down your child’s worry. Once your worry is deposited in the box, try to turn your attention towards another activity or task. The worry box allows you to mentally let go of your worries and move forward with your day.


B) Deep Breathing

My favourite technique for helping anxious clients  and using myself is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing pattern developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s based on a yogic technique called pranayama, which helps you gain control over your breathing. You can do this with your kids too. Do not do this breathing technique while you are driving or you are in the bathtub or a body of water.

  1. Breathe in for a slow count of 4.
  2. Hold your breath for a slow count of 7.
  3. And gently breathe out for a slow count of 8. This is a long slow exhale.
  4. Repeat this for at least 10 rounds. I find this the quickest and easiest way to slow your racing mind and racing body. You can watch this video on how to use this breathing technique.

You always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth.


C) Focus on now

If breathing is not your thing. Then focus on what you are doing right now. You cannot be focused on listening to your children while thinking about the past or the future or holding a conversation with your partner. Being present is the important to staying healthy and happy. It helps fight anxiety, reduces your worrying and rumination, and keeps you grounded and connected to yourself.

Being present is enjoying colouring with your child instead of getting annoyed that this actively is slowing you down from getting supper ready. Being present is accepting that everything is just the way it is supposed to be in this moment even if it is not perfect. Living in the now is difficult because we are always encouraged to think about the future, dwell on our past. or rush off to the next thing on our to do list.

Having trouble imagining how to be present? Try this little exercise.

  1. Just imagine you are squeezing your hand tightly shut and trying to keep it relaxed. You cannot physically hold your hand tightly closed and relaxed at the same time.
  2. Try looking at and describing an object in detail out loud while trying to count.  You cannot do both mental processes at the same time.

It is the same for your mind. You cannot be worrying about anything while focused on the present moment. If you find yourself endlessly worrying, try one of these three techniques and discover which one works best for you.


3) Practice gratitude

While so many of our daily routines have changed and some of us have suffered huge losses this past year, we still have a lot to be thankful and grateful for. While I see myself as a grateful person and I do notice things and people around me I have happy to have in my life, I noticed that a subtle change when I started a written gratitude journal. There is something a bit more concrete about spending the time to write a written gratitude journal than just thinking about me blessings. Studies have found that giving thanks and counting your blessings can help you sleep better, lower your stress levels, reduce depression, and improve your interpersonal relationships.

There are many different gratitude journals on the market or web you can choose from. Be specific about what you are grateful for.  It can be helpful to be more specific about what you are grateful for then just to say I am grateful for something in a general manner. Do not worry if you skip a day. And some days it will be harder to think of what you are grateful for but I found the longer I keep up this practice the easier was for me to see my many blessings. Gratitude is not only about being thankful for your positive experiences. You can also be grateful that you have past through a tough or challenging situation as you may be able to find the silver lining in the rain clouds.


4) What gives you Joy?

This is a question I have been asking myself lately. What will I or what can I do that gives me joy this winter? During the spring pandemic shutdown it was easier for me to keep myself occupied and happy as I love to grow plants and could dream of my summer garden and start seeds to plant later that spring.

As we enter this winter pandemic shutdown, I have to really think about what I can do daily or weekly that will give me joy. One of the things I have started to do is to have candles lit for every meal. Lighting the candles and playing music is one way for me to bring myself comfort and pleasure.  Another daily or weekly activity in our household is playing games after dinner. I’ve found many games in the basement  we have not played in a long time and now they are out in our family room or on the table for us to us.

What little pleasure and joyful moments can you create for yourself? Turning on the fireplace, reading, petting your dog or cat, getting into your workshop and creating something. You could explore an online painting class. Do you like doing puzzles or do you play a musical instrument? Finding something that makes you smile does not have to be expensive and you may have crafts hobbies or activities at home already which you can do to pass the time. Only you have the answer to what brings you joy.


5) Get outdoors

Nature is open 24/7. Seriously get outdoors. We need to fresh air, the movement and feeling cold air on our skin. Bundle up, get all cozy and enjoy the cold sunny days of January. While we may not be able to go downhill skiing there are many outdoor activities still available for us to do. Spending time outdoors, is one of the fastest ways to improve your health and happiness. Spending time outdoors lowers your stress, your blood pressure and  your heart rate, while encouraging physical activity and lifting your mood and mental health. besides its a great excuse to have some hot chocolate or a hot drink once you get back inside.


6) Connect with Others

It is not uncommon for many people to feel lonely around the holidays and as we enter the coldest season of the year, loneliness can reach high levels after the holidays when we have to mostly stay in our homes. Instead of texting, reach out and call someone. We are spending too much of our time isolated from one another. I am having coffee with my friends over the internet and making sure to call my friends and family weekly. My sister calls me while walking the dog and tells me about the gardens in her neighbourhood. I call friends while I bike indoors and the time just flies.

Some families send quick messages and photos to families and friends about their everyday lives. I encourage grandparents to reach out to the grandkids and read stories to them. One great idea I heard was a grandparent sending photos from the past to her children and grandchildren telling them who everyone is and what was happening that day as a way of passing family history on to the next generation.

Make plans to join online exercise, chat or gaming groups. Even if you are not meeting in person,  having a planned event to go to gives you something to look forward to and even if you don’t talk a whole lot you still get to interact with others.

Take advantage of technology and reach out to someone today.


7) Commit to reading every day

Many of us love reading. Some of us don’t want to read but might love listening to audio books. Make a commitment to read for 20 minutes every day. Choose a book you want to read or even read to your children. School books or work required reading does not count for this activity. This gives you something to look forward to everyday. Curl up with a book whether it’s alone or with your children at bedtime. How often do you wish you had time to read and you were just too busy?

Reading puts our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation and brings you the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, and lower rates of depression when compared to non-readers.


8)  Reduce your consumption of junk food, sugar, and alcohol


Unfortunately, some of us have started to over indulge in unhealthy food and drink choices during the pandemic and the holiday season. There is nothing wrong with eating chocolate, chips, cookies or drinking a beer or a glass of wine. But if this becomes your go to food or beverage of choice your mind and body may not truly appreciate all those calories and sugar.

Anxiety, social isolation, and stress are all common side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which may made some of us pick up some bad consumption habits more often. Lack of structure, boredom, stress, loneliness or loss of your job and financial strain are all reasons why some people are eating or drinking more right now.  With many hours in the day to fill, without having a purpose, a hobby or something worthwhile to do, some of us may end up drinking alcohol or over eating to pass the time.It is also important to realize the added stress, anxiety and depression many of us are experiencing  leads to us craving comfort foods, sweet or salty snacks or overeating as a way to cope with our emotions.

Try to reduce your alcohol (3 drinks if you are male and two drinks if you are female) and do not mix your normal everyday activities with drinking or mindless snacking. Drink something nonalcoholic in between your drinks or do not drink during the day.  Talk with your family doctor if you think you are drinking too much or you are drinking because of your anxiety, stress or depression. Excessive drinking can deepen your depression.

Be mindful of how much junk food you are eating. For some people, pouring yourself a bowl of chips instead of eating out of the bag helps them control how much they are consuming. While others, find it easier to avoid junk food or cookies at all. You need to find the strategies that work for you.  If you find yourself eating  or drinking to manage your emotions, do reach out and speak to a therapist to develop coping strategies.


9)    Create “Just Me Time” with your partner


Great idea from a friend is for each of you to have a kid free evening and night. Each of you choose a regular night when you can disappear after dinner and NOT be on duty until the next morning. Your partner is responsible for putting the kids to bed, managing any kids who wake up at night, and they take care of the morning routine. This allows the partner to hide out in their bedroom for a relaxing evening and a good night sleep. This break requires discipline for you not to go and help out if the kids act out and for your partner to really carry his or her weight that night.

This doesn’t work for single parents who are all on their own but for couples you can help yourself and your partner get a need break and downtime. For single parents, if you have older children you can tell them this is special time for Mom or Dad as you need to have a break once a week. Have your kids go hang out in their bedroom maybe 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime so you get some extra time. Single parents could also ask parents, siblings, or friends to “virtually watch their children” with technology depending upon their ages. Someone can read to your child or play games while you get a break nearby in the house. Your parent, sibling, or friend must be able to reach you immediately if need be.


10) Do something you love once the kids are in bed


As a single parent, when my spouse was gone for 6 weeks or 6 months at a time, I would paint once the kids were in bed. This helped keep me sane while I was a single parenting. I could be creative after the kids where in bed.

What can you do that helps you feel happy, refreshed and energized? Have a warm bath? Game online with your friends? Watch a movie, read a book, or listen to music to help you relax? Keep a calendar and write in the things you’re looking forward to. Schedule something once or twice a week if you can do for yourself (they don’t have to be time consuming or expensive!).


11) Sleep


No more staying up all night binge reading or watching movies or gaming, and then trying to get yourself up for work or to take care of your children the next day. Sleep plays an important role in your physical and mental health. Good sleep improves your problem-solving skills, concentration, your mood, and enhances memory performance of both children and adults. Poor sleep is linked to depression and many negative physical health outcomes like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. Not to mention lack of sleep just makes most of us grumpy as we get older.