Are you ready for a winter lockdown?
2020…sigh… apparently it’s still here, and still no better. And now we’re in for Lockdown 2: The Sequel.
Back in the Spring, when lockdown 1.0 became a reality, as March turned into April and the seasons started changing, I kept repeating the same thing to anyone who would listen: “well, at least it’s not winter…it would be so much worse in winter.”
And here we are: after the sort-of summer, autumn is fading away and Winter Is Coming. With England and several other European countries heading back into quarantine, the dreaded winter lockdown has arrived.
I’m in a Scotland Level 3 area, where things are slightly less restrictive than a full lockdown (for now), but the basic message is still Stay At Home.
As a fairly dedicated homebody, the thought of this doesn’t faze me too much, but doing it in winter is a whole different ballgame. I know how much I relied on simple things like being able to sit outside in the garden and go for a walk after dinner during the spring lockdown.
So with that in mind, I started compiling a list of ways to get through the next 6 dark months. Going into complete hibernation sadly isn’t an option, so here are some other ideas for coping with a winter lockdown.
1. Keep Getting Outside – All Winter
If you do nothing else on this list, do this one. When it’s cold and raining out there, it’s all too tempting to pull up the drawbridge, stay safely indoors and only open the door for your 2020 BFFs, the Amazon Guy and the Tesco Man. But we all know that’s a mistake.
Of course some days you may not get out and that’s fine – but don’t stay indoors for days on end. I had a bit of a wobble during the first weeks of lockdown in the spring and didn’t leave the house for two weeks. Not recommended! My mental health took a real dive, and my daily step count was pitiful. As soon as I got back outside again, there was an instant improvement in my mood.
A blast of fresh air will help you to feel more energised and can help to relieve stress and anxiety, amongst numerous other benefits. It’s also important during the darker winter months to immerse yourself in daylight whenever you can (especially when you live in pretty far north like we do in the UK and northern US). Your body, brain, and sleep patterns will all thank you for it.
It doesn’t matter where you go, but if possible aim for a bit of green space away from traffic pollution and noise. If you follow my Instagram, you’ll know how much I like to get out for a walk in the woods as much as possible. The Japanese are firm believers in the concept of forest-bathing, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m also a fan of being by the coast whenever I can too. Apparently the reason why sea air is so good for you is because it’s charged with negative ions, which have a mood-stabilising effect. Basically, nature = good. We all know it. Let’s get out there.
2. Change your winter mindset and act like a Scandinavian
All things Scandi have become popular over the last few years, from Borgen to hygge to awesome Nordic woollen socks. But the one thing we should all try to adopt is the Scandinavian attitude to winter. With winter daylight hours being extremely short in many Nordic regions, they have a whole lot of winter to deal with. But instead of dreading the colder months, they have an admirable tendency to merrily carry on regardless, and actually enjoy them.
But what actually is it that makes the Scandinavians so good at winter? Recent studies have shown that their mindset, deeply embedded in their societal attitudes towards the cold, dark winter, is key in the contentment levels these countries report. They genuinely enjoy it because they’ve been raised to think that way. It’s inherent in their culture. (And if you think their legendary jollity is just a cliche, have a read of the World Happiness Report. All true.)
Scandi countries are also fans of the old saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”. Can’t argue with this one – if you go out in the cold without enough layers you will be miserable. But bundle up in the right togs and you’re far more likely to be cosy and comfortable. Thermal socks and warming base layers are your winter friends.
So try to shift your mindset towards the positive and look at all the good things winter brings: crisp air, crunchy walks, hazy mornings, creamy hot chocolate, slow-cooked comfort food, coming in from the cold, lighting the fire or some scented candles. Cosy up – or ‘coorie in’ as we say in Scotland.
3. Clear the Decks at Home This Winter
You’re going to be spending a lot of time in the same set of four walls. And whether you live alone, or with the family you’ve seen far too much of this year, you’re going to need as much space as you can get. Time for a clear out.
You don’t need to go full Marie Kondo and get rid of everything, but most of us can benefit from a fairly rigorous declutter now and again. Winter lockdown seems like the perfect time. You’ve got nowhere else to be right now.
If you don’t know where to start, then figure out where you’re spending most of your time and start there. Bring a box with you to collect any things that don’t belong in that room. Choose one corner of the room, and work your way round. But stop after half an hour or so (or when your box is full!) and come back to it again tomorrow with some fresh enthusiasm.
The added benefit is that there’s nothing like a newly decluttered room to spur you on to want to keep going. You might find that you get inspired to tackle more spaces.
If you’re looking for more decluttering suggestions, there’s a fantastic blog I follow that can help you get started – check out Balance Through Simplicity for loads of uncomplicated advice.
4. Make your winter lockdown home work for you
Towards the end of the summer, after months of working from home and homeschooling, my husband and I were constantly clutching our bad backs and stretching our cricked necks. This was mainly because we’d been taking turns to use the one office-space in our house. Whoever wasn’t in the office was relegated to the kitchen table, among the deafening noise of the kids (because Lockdown Parenting Is No Joke, remember), hunched over a laptop among the cereal boxes.
Meanwhile, upstairs, the spare bedroom was sitting blissfully empty. A pristinely tidy – and pointlessly vacant – space. Having a spare bedroom has always been important to us as friends and family live far and wide, and so we regularly have overnight guests. Until lockdown, obviously…although this didn’t occur to us for a fairly long time.
Once we’d made the obvious connection, it only took half an hour to move the spare room furniture about and set up a workspace in there. The difference it made to our lives was astronomical. Two workspaces and no more bad backs and apologising for the background screaming on zoom calls.
My point is: do whatever you need to make your home work for you right now, in the middle of your corona-life. Redefine your spaces to whatever is needed. You can move things back later when the world starts turning again.
5. Light in the Darkness: A Winter Quarantine Essential
If it’s going to get dark, let’s embrace it. See point 2. (But get outside as well. See point 1).
Anyway, instead of thinking about how long the hours of darkness are, think about how much time you’ve got to cosy up inside. Cue ambient lighting!
Get out the candles, or treat yourself to some new ones. If naked flames aren’t your thing (or you’ve got toddlers and pets milling about), there are fantastic battery LED candles you can use instead.
Fairy lights aren’t just for student flats any more. Get your twinkle on and channel a Nigella Christmas special with string lights. Find new place to put them, like in a large vase with some glass beads for extra reflection.
Salt lamps aren’t to everyone’s taste, but some people swear by them to help clean the air at home, boost your mood and help you sleep. I’m fascinated and really keen to buy one.
If the darkness really gets to you, and you worry you might be a bit prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, try a light therapy box. Or as it’s known in our house, a Sad Lamp. It’s basically an extremely bright light that synthesises the light levels of natural daylight. You’ll get a shock when you first turn it on, but they do seem to work. My husband uses one during the winter – and I can tell you from living with him, that it definitely makes a difference to his mood.
You don’t need to stick to indoor lighting either. It might not be Christmas yet, but why not put up some outdoor lights to welcome you home in the dark? I’m taking part in the ShineBrightScotland movement on social media, by lighting up the darkness with some outdoor lights. I just have some twinkly solar lanterns in the tree outside my front door, but they make me happy whenever I see them, and I guess that’s really the point.
6. Find Something To Do: A Winter Lockdown Hobby
This piece of advice is what I wearily say to my children when they complain of being bored for the umpteenth time, but it’s probably useful advice for us all (again) right now. If you feel like you’ve completed Netflix and can’t face another boxset, then it’s definitely time to focus your brain on something.
Quarantine has given birth to millions of new hobbies the world over, but what it’s also done is give rise to countless online opportunities for learning something new. Whatever you’d like to learn, the likelihood is you can now easily do so online. Learn a language or a musical instrument, try yoga or a new workout, find a new podcast, learn a craft, draw, paint, knit, sew, crochet, bake, cook, redecorate your house, or plant some bulbs for spring.
Did all that the first time round? Why not learn a new skill to help in your career, or just something you’re interested in? There is a phenomenal volume of online training available for free or for very little cost, via MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. Visit https://www.mooc.org/ for all the info.
7. Mark the Passing of the Seasons
One of the reasons that 2020 has felt like a slog (besides the obvious) is because lockdown and quarantine restrictions have curtailed or taken away the very markers we use to acknowledge the passing of the seasons.
This was very obvious in the summer, when all the usual sporting and cultural events were either cancelled or took place behind closed doors. Closer to home, children missed out on the standard fixtures of the academic calendar when schools were closed.
Simple things that I really missed this summer included: watching Wimbledon, Love Island and Glastonbury on TV, dropping my son at Scout camp, seeing my kids at School Sports Day. Oh, and taking the holiday abroad we’d booked months before. I definitely missed that. These are small things in the big picture, but they are ways that I subconsciously mark the passing of each year. It’s easy to feel a bit lost without these markers.
Now that winter, advent and Christmas are coming, other annual favourites are already cancelled such as the nursery nativity play, our trip to the panto, and our usual Santa visit.
This makes me all the more determined to find other, smaller ways to celebrate as much of the seasons as possible. Things will be different this year and homegrown fun will need to do, but I’m up for the challenge.
9. Keep an eye out for others during the winter lockdown
Humanity was so good at this the first time round. Heartwarming stories were everywhere, tales of neighbours and communities coming together to make sure everyone was ok as we all isolated. But months down the road and into the second wave, we’ve become used to the new restrictions on our lives. The new normal is not so new.
Let’s all make sure we remember to check in on those who might need some extra help this time around. Check on elderly or vulnerable neighbours. Facetime your friend with a new baby. Buy an extra item and put it in the foodbank donation box.
10. Look after your own mental health
Hopefully you’ll be able to remain positive despite all the restrictions, but if you feel your own mental health starting to deteriorate, act now and ask for some help. Call a friend, call your doctor, do whatever you need to get some support. Don’t wait too long to see if it gets better, because it might get worse instead and then it may be harder to seek help. The NHS has simple advice here.
So that’s how I’m aiming to get through the next few months. If all else fails, we could all start discussing our sourdough starters again.
If you have any other suggestions, let me know in the comments!