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Creative Winter Coping Strategies for Body, Mind and Spirit

Friends making s'mores over a fire pit
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Scientists now know COVID-19 spreads far more easily indoors than outdoors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a result, many people moved their activities into the great wide open this summer. But as cold weather looms in some places, patio get-togethers, picnics and some outdoor sports may be more difficult, if not impossible.

That doesn’t mean our social lives or fitness routines have to grind to a halt, however. You may need to swap out some options and make modifications to others. With a little outside-the-box thinking, you can conquer the cold and find new ways to connect and cope.

Understand the Dangers

The risk any particular activity poses depends on a variety of factors, including how widespread the virus is in your area. When you’re making plans, it’s helpful to think about:

  • How many people will be present? The more contact you have with those outside your household, the greater the risk of COVID-19 spread.
  • How far apart they’ll be. Staying at least 6 feet away from others reduces your risk of getting infected. The closer you are to someone who has the virus, the more likely you’ll catch it.
  • How long the activity lasts. The more minutes and hours you spend with other people, the greater the risk of passing the virus between you and them.
  • Your underlying risk factors — and theirs. Erring on the side of caution is even more important for older adults, people with compromised immune systems and those with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, the CDC notes.

Keeping all these elements in mind can help you decide which cold-weather pursuits are safe for your particular situation, and which you’ll want to change up.

Consider Your Purpose

When you’re replacing a summer outing or event, start by thinking about the need you’re trying to fill. Is it nurturing relationships, getting exercise, relieving stress or some combination of the three? Sometimes, it might take more than one activity to check the same boxes.

For instance, if your kids’ baseball team used to provide both movement and camaraderie, you might need both a new exercise method and a way for them to connect with friends safely.

Dining al fresco may have offered both grown-up social time and a relaxing change of scenery — so you might have to schedule both a family-only adventure day and a bigger virtual get-together with friends.

Stay Connected No Matter the Season

Social connections and relationships matter even more during stressful times. So, it’s important to find new ways to keep in touch with family and friends as the seasons change.

Get toasty. Look for sidewalk cafes with portable heaters, or consider investing in your own gas-fired patio warmers. A fire pit or outdoor fireplace can also warm your yard or deck. Just be sure to follow local regulations in regard to fire safety and pollution levels. And remember that breathing in smoke can be risky for people with asthma, heart disease or other conditions.

Have yourself a snow day. If you’re in a northern climate, remember how you and your friends played in the snow for hours as a kid? You can recreate these adventures now, regardless of age. Get together with others to make snow angels, build snowmen or go sledding. Remember to keep space between people who aren’t in your household, and wear masks — they’ll do double duty to keep you warm, anyway.

Gather on screen. Virtual get-togethers were all the rage earlier in the year. As a result, software companies and event planners have gotten even more creative with online offerings. Now that many more people — including older adults and schoolchildren — are familiar with the tools and technology, it’s easier than ever to make a digital connection.

Or, go old school. You can also reach out in low-tech ways. Make a phone call — if you’re not a big talker, you can read a book together, watch a TV show or listen to music. Or, write an old-fashioned letter. Sure, the communication isn’t as immediate, but trading greetings through the mail also leaves you with lasting mementos.

Winterize Your Fitness Routine

Adverse conditions can make physical activity more complicated than simply heading out the door for a walk or a run. But even if you don’t have access to a gym or fitness center, you can still stay in shape this fall and winter.

Get better gear. The key to outdoor exercise, even in frigid temps? Staying warm with layers. Start with long underwear to soak up sweat and keep you toasty. Add snug, insulated sweaters and leggings. Wear a wind- and water-resistant outer layer, if needed. And add a hat to prevent heat from escaping through your head.

Try a new sport. Ice and snow can make running, cycling or other activities risky. But they represent prime conditions for a range of other activities. Consider downhill or cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing or even playing broomball on the ice. Just make sure, whatever you choose, that you include only those in your household — or keep your distance.

Go virtual. More gyms, trainers and exercise instructors than ever before have moved their programming online. In fact, you can now attend many of the most popular fitness studios from anywhere in the country. Even the CDC offers simple, easy-to-follow workout videos and activity tips.

Add Stress-Relievers to Your Schedule

As the more carefree days of summer fade and the holiday season approaches, you may find yourself more tense than ever — with fewer ways to relax. If exercise and social time alone aren’t calming your mind, work one or more of these methods into your routine.

Travel, virtually. It’s not as easy to hop on a plane and visit a faraway land right now — but thanks to online museums, webcams and other virtual experiences, you can get a taste of a different culture, no passport required.

Have a good laugh. Humor can feel hard to come by in challenging times, but know that it’s OK to feel joy even when you’re facing challenges. Find your smile by cuing up your favorite sitcom, playing a game with a child or calling a friend who always makes you giggle.

Breathe deeply. Whenever you catch yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a 10-minute timeout. Sit or lie down comfortably. Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest, then take five to 10 deep, full breaths.

You might it helpful to block time for exercise, social events and stress relievers in your calendar, just the way you would a work meeting or a doctor’s appointment. That way, you can ensure you make time for everything that matters to you — and your family.

Extra Help, When You Need It

If you’re feeling overwhelmed this fall and winter, you don’t have to cope alone. Our Behavioral Health Experts offer counseling, medications and other services.

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