The ‘Bleak’ Mid-Winter

As the pandemic rages with vicious variants identified, I’m focusing on positive thoughts for getting through the 2021 ‘bleak’ mid-winter.

Although Christmas is over, the words of the famous poem by Christina Rossetti, adapted into a Christmas carol, ring through my thoughts.

In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan 

Earth stood hard as iron 

Water like a stone…….

n the Bleak Mid-Winter -- photo courtesy of Kelly Sikkema on Unsplashwoman standing on snow field
In the Bleak Mid-Winter — photo courtesy of Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s January in Ontario. The skies are grey and overcast on most days.  The ground is frozen. Water in the pond near my walking path has turned to ice. Frosty winds blow the freshly fallen snow around forming small drifts. Daylight hours are short. The holiday festivities (such as they were) are over and the bright decorations are stowed away.

Every newscast tells of accelerating COVID case counts and deaths. Using the Emergency Measures Act, Ontario’s Premier issued orders to ‘stay-at-home’ except for essential grocery trips or medical appointments. Hospital ICUs are almost at capacity. The ‘stay-at-home’ order is to last at least one month which will take us well into February. Most public events are cancelled — even ski resorts in Ontario are closed during this lockdown! This truly feels like a bleak mid-winter!

Diversions for the Bleak Mid-winter

As a coping strategy, and, to keep my mind and body busy during this time, I’m turning to winter diversions. January is a month when it’s difficult to stay motivated.  These diversions are getting me through the worst of this bleak mid-winter.

For a sense of control, I’m focused on finishing projects for which there was never enough time — especially things that I can finish in a day or two. My attention span isn’t geared for any long-term projects but I need the sense of accomplishment from small achievements. I’ve given up on the need to overachieve.

I cocoon with books.  After watching too many newscasts filled with disquieting stories, it’s time for books. What’s better on a winter evening than a good novel, a blanket and a cup of tea — all of which are restorative and calming.

I’m also practicing lagom.  Lagom refers to the Swedish concept of balanced living. It’s been defined as ‘just enough’ or ‘just right’. Going to excess with respect to alcohol, food, sleep, screen time, or online shopping won’t decrease the stress of staying home. Fretting about getting back to ‘normal’ (whatever that is), adds to bleakness.  If interested, you can read an earlier post on lagom here

Despite my gym’s closure, I push myself to exercise every day. I give myself an extra pat on the back if I exercise outdoors as then I get the benefits of natural light.  Bundling up and venturing outdoors improves my mood and reduces anxiety.  Colder temperatures are more tolerable when I wear my new down-filled mittens from Santa and snuggle my toes in hand-knitted woollen socks. I also use a scarf, toque, walking boots, and a windproof jacket. When it’s icy I strap cleats over my boots and use Nordic poles for balance.

The bleak mid-winter is an excuse for indulgence in warming treats.  Some of my favourites include mulled wine, hot apple cider, caramel popcorn balls, maple syrup fudge and slow cooker soups and stews. Need I say more?

I’m also thinking of trying new things to keep my mind occupied and stay energized. One of my friends has joined a virtual choir. If I can convince my husband, perhaps we can have a winter picnic on our back patio. I’m also planning an indoor garden with amaryllis bulbs and herbs — anything to bring a sense of change to my life.

Most of all, I’m focusing on protecting and supporting my mental health. Mental activity such as playing the piano or playing bridge online forces my brain to use long-neglected synapses. Concentrating my senses to look at winter sunsets, listen to snow crunching underfoot, and smelling the aromas of fresh baking are small exercises in mindfulness.

We have little control over the virus nor do we have control over the lockdown restrictions but I’ll appreciate the good things of everyday life as a means of keeping a positive attitude and preserving my mental health.


7 Replies to “The ‘Bleak’ Mid-Winter”

  1. Yes, a lockdown in winter (when in some ways you might think it would be easier to snuggle down and stay at home) is proving very difficult. We are more than 3 weeks into our third national one and I have to say it’s been by far the most difficult. I’ve been deploying most of the tactics you refer to in varying forms but for the first time I am really and truly aware of how much I am missing all those social interactions and events that normal life brings and which we’ve now foregone for over 10 months.

    1. Your comment rings true for me. It’s the socialization and informal interaction that I miss most. Ontario’s numbers fluctuate daily with no clear downward trend. Canada depends on European shipments of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna although there are manufacturers nearby in US border states. The US needs all the vaccine that is available in their country. The EU is limiting supplies for Canada. All this means that we will need to wait longer.
      When I worked as an advocate for child welfare services, we were constantly negotiating with governments for more funding for children’s services. A common joke over drinks was something like “when the pond runs dry, the animals look at each other differently”. It seems appropriate in the current context as, understandably, vaccine nationalism now prevails.
      One ray of hope is that the local schools in our area will open next week. I’m looking at this announcement as a positive sign.

  2. Thanks for telling me you ordered the book! I hope you find it useful and interesting. And I hope ordering it makes you happy! Stay safe, and enjoy your day, too!

  3. Fortunately this winter has been mild with very little snow in our part of Ontario. We are still able to walk out of doors without a toque. Nothing like fresh air to lift the mood!

    1. I agree that until last week, January was mild. However, the bleak and bitter phase of winter is here now. I’ve been watching the snow today and note that our snow plough service has cleared our driveway and walkway twice since this morning! I think we get more lake effect snow in this South Western area. Stay safe and keep walking — toque or not!

  4. Those are all good strategies to deal with the days at hand. I enjoy many of those same activities, but I would add keeping a gratitude journal (which I believe you told me you do journal) helps me. It does seem tougher these days, but I keep telling myself and others, we just have to hold on a bit longer. Getting outside really helps, as you noted. I admire your fortitude in dealing with your weather. I also recently listened to a podcast with Dr. Sanjay Gupta (Fresh Air podcast) where he discussed his new book, “Keep Sharp.” He talked about having new experiences to keep our brain sharp – which leads to happiness. Linking happiness with brain health was a new concept for me. I enjoyed your post and noted to myself to find new ways to encourage myself through these grey days. Let’s both stay strong and remember spring is coming! Thanks for your post, and enjoy your day tomorrow.

    1. Hi Betty,
      I’ve ordered Dr. Gupta’s book and look forward to reading his advice on brain health. I’m always interested in writing with scientific information about happiness. My favourite researcher is Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky who tells us that only 50% is under our control with the rest of our happiness determined by genetics! I’m determined to use every bit of the available 50%! I thank you for the encouragement to get through this last phase (I hope) of COVID restrictions — and I send my encouragement right back to you! Stay safe and stay Happy!

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