Thriving in Pandemic Winter
By Atieno Bird, M.A.
Coach and Trainer

Happy woman resting by the fire with a blanket and caressing her golden puppy, feet in wool socks. Cozy scene

“We began by trying to “flatten the curve” for a couple of weeks. As Randy Rainbow sang on YouTube, “I will save the human race by lying on my couch.”

As the weeks stretched into months, we at least had the outdoors to gather with friends – distancing and masking – and activities in nature to enjoy.

But as it becomes clear that pandemic conditions will continue beyond the one-year mark, many of us are wondering how much deeper we will have to dig into our internal reserves. Temperatures drop, skies turn gray, and the sun seems to vanish right after lunch.

We developed this short guide to thriving during Covid-19 for anyone who finds their stamina faltering as they stare into the forbidding face of northern hemisphere winter.

Admit it’s serious

It’s important to acknowledge that the coping skills you have developed may need a refresh at this point. Winter is hard for many people even without a pandemic. Less sunlight, less movement, less warmth, less time in nature? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real. There are no extra points for toughing it out. Step one is about validating your struggle and not skipping over your need for a conscious plan.

Assess

Take stock of the following domains: Body (food, exercise, and rest,) Mind (curiosity and pleasure,) and Spirit (intimacy and social contact.) Go ahead and give yourself a score on each, picking a number between 0 (couldn’t be worse) and 10 (couldn’t be better.)

Invent

For any domain that scores less than 10, make up an antidote. The beauty of inventing your antidotes is that each is uniquely created by you and customized to you. But if you’d like to prime your creativity pump, we do have a few ideas:

  • Eat two pounds of fresh whole vegetables a day. Start at the grocery store. Frontload: each snack or meal should start with veg and fruit.
  • Walk 10,000 steps a day. Keep an eye on the sky and, if possible, walk in sunlight.
  • Subscribe to an online instructor-led workout service. As few as seven minutes a day of intense cardio can improve your mood.
  • Ban screens from the bedroom.
  • Chug a glass of chamomile tea and hit the hay by 10pm.
  • Line up your leisure reading or watching. Rather than letting your Facebook feed or channel surfing churn up material to eat up your time, identify a topic you’d like to learn about, a favorite author, or a trusted source of recommendations. Make sure you will have access to the book, podcast, or show when the time comes. 
  • Look at the space around you. Are your rooms cozy? Pleasing? Do they signal nurture and comfort? Maybe it’s time for new furniture? Cleaning, reorganizing, applying some paint color, stringing twinkling lights outside, or even just lighting candles or adding a soft blanket can make a difference.

Put in the work on relationships

Loneliness abatement ideas get their own section. Approach this from at least two angles: investing in friendships you have and making new friends.

  • Set up a weekly video happy hour with a small group (4-6) of good friends. Make a special beverage you truly enjoy.
  • Write a card or email every week to let someone know specifically the difference they have made in your life. You can bet you are not alone in struggling to feel connected and relevant, and you might be surprised how much it ends up meaning to them. This is a gratitude practice that will leave you feeling empowered too.
  • Social constructionists and children know how to delineate occasions with imagination, agreements, and perhaps a few props. Dress up for dinner in your own household. Plan a cheese and wine tasting video event with another household, with blind scoring, a maître d, and prizes. Assume a new identity and see who guesses your character by the end of dinner. 
  • Find or start a weekly video group focused on a goal, cause, or interest. This could be a book club, a discussion group organized around current issues or story prompts, or a group that focuses on accountability for fitness-related or other commitments. We hardly ever have serendipitous moments of unexpected acquaintance in public now, yet novelty is a human need. Reach out not only to the people you know, but the people you barely know or want to know, or simply send out your “bat signal” on a topic. Ask a known friend to partner with you in establishing the group.
  • Gift friends to friends. Make introductions between people you know and ask them for the same.

Schedule

Claim a space on your calendar to add your regularly occurring antidotes.

Really, put it onto your calendar

No, seriously, open your calendar. If you don’t dedicate a time for it, it probably won’t happen!

Be kind

If there are days when doing your antidote feels overwhelming, don’t be your own worst critic. Winter is a time to burrow into comforting practices, because winter often isn’t easy. Many of us are struggling. Practice compassion toward yourself. And when cabin fever or feeling isolated hits, take an action of generosity toward someone else to re-light the flame in your heart.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel

Remember, the pandemic will pass. And winter will come to an end. It always does! The days are already growing longer, and a kinder outside will arrive. To paraphrase the great songwriter Oscar Hammerstein II, “it is the promised kiss of springtime that makes the winter seem so long.”