With winter ahead of us and the continued unknowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must prepare more than ever to help prevent or lessen the winter blues. Some people are understandably already feeling very stressed and anxious due to the changes, losses, and uncertainty of our jobs, education, family plans, social lives, and travel restrictions. Adding the long, dark, and cold winter days and months to this is a cause of concern for many. The Canadian Mental Health Association says, “We should remember that this is absolutely the time to lean on each other. Even if we can’t be close physically, we need to stay close emotionally. So, while you’re staying in, stay in touch with each other, and reach out if you need support.”
So what exactly can we do as we approach this next potentially very difficult season?
- Reduce your stress levels—take long, slow, deep breaths. Mindfully replace thoughts of negative worry and fear with positivity, reflecting on past better days and those to come. Control the controllables, letting go of what you can’t change.
- Do what relaxes you—limit time spent on social media and watching the news; enjoy a hot cup of tea, read a book, soak in a warm bath or wrap yourself up in your coziest blanket in front of the fireplace after a long run. Listen to your favourite music or do something that will make you laugh.
- Live with gratitude—write in a reflection journal; make a list of your favourite things, biggest accomplishments, and other life events that leave you feeling proud and wanting to work for more.
- Get good sleep—establish a schedule where you go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day. Avoid bright screens within a few hours before bedtime. Unwind and clear your head before hitting the pillow. Avoid trying to solve problems while trying to fall asleep. Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, dark, and comfortable. Think about that new route you will run tomorrow.
- Eat and hydrate well—avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol, make mealtimes calm and relaxed, and avoid eating to relieve stress. Be mindful of your eating habits. Aim to eat a variety of healthy foods each day that help with your physical and mental well-being.
- Get outside during daylight, no matter what, even if only for a short time—dress for the weather and bundle up. Take a break from work. Walk the dog. Go to the mailbox. Shorten your run if it means you will get out and get it done. Frequent, short breaks will also help reduce sedentary time.
- Embrace winter—try those outdoor winter activities that we can do in Canada, like skiing, skating, and snowshoeing. Remember that you won’t lose fitness if you take a few days off running to do some other form of physical activity.
- Help others and give back—show patience, kindness, compassion for those around you. Check in with someone to see how they’re doing. Be a teammate. Encourage others to start a run/walk program or go after a personal best. Write positive comments or “like” peoples’ running posts on social media.
- Soak in the natural daylight—sit near a window or move your desk or chair, in the room where you spend the most time, to enjoy the brightness that reflects off the snow. Keep curtains and blinds open during daylight hours. Wear reflective gear if running in the dark.
- Maintain your positive social and emotional relationships—arrange regular video chats, phone calls or routine texting with those who make you smile and feel loved. Set boundaries for those who don’t.
- Physical activity—this may be an easy one for those of us who are runners. But what about when we are ill, injured, or just can’t get out the door? Allow yourself to heal or recover before resuming your regular training routine. Once you are well again, slowly return to where you left off. On those days where motivation is a challenge, remember how good you feel when you return from that run you didn’t feel like taking.
- Set new goals—plan a time trial or virtual run that helps give you purpose and motivation for your training. Check off a bucket list item you wouldn’t normally do in your routine running season.
- Reflect—look back on past goals and memorable race experiences, knowing they will return.
- Expect the unexpected and dream—imagine that all of the gruelling mental and physical training in those harsh wintry conditions will pay off in a surprisingly big way, like a podium finish.