- Cameron M. Clark
Mindset Matters - Winter in the time of COVID-19
Winter is a difficult season for some, even during the best of times. Lack of natural sunlight can lead to seasonal depression and negative emotions, and snow accumulation or icy walkways and roadways can make leaving the house for social visits or even gathering the essentials more difficult or just plain impossible. Add in the looming shadow of uncertainty resulting from a now drawn-out global pandemic, as well as the threat of a second lockdown, and this coming winter is shaping up to be a particularly challenging one from a psychological perspective.
Or is it? Consider the following statements. To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of these sentiments:
There are many things to enjoy about the winter
I love the cosiness of the winter months
Winter brings many wonderful seasonal changes
Winter is boring
Winter is a limiting time of year
There are many things to dislike about winter
Perhaps unsurprisingly, new research has found that people are not all in agreement about their thoughts about winter. While some people dread the sight of that dastardly "white stuff" falling from the sky, others revel in the opportunity to break out their winter boots, and hear that old familiar crunch of the first frost beneath their feet. Likewise, some people ache at the mere thought of picking up a snow shovel in October, while others delight in the early arrival of snowshoeing and cross country ski season (you're probably thinking of a few examples of each kind of person right now).
What is most interesting about this new research though, is that it suggests that your view of the above statements about winter may in fact be related to your psychological wellbeing and mental health through the cold months. These statements are drawn from the "wintertime mindset scale" that researchers used to assess participants' psychological appraisal of winter and all that it brings with it. They found that participants that tended to see winter as an exciting opportunity rather than a burden to bear reported higher levels of life satisfaction and overall mental health.
This correlation between positive mindset and mental health is somewhat common sense, however it's consequences are difficult to overstate. Seeing potentially stressful events as challenges to be solved and/or adventures to be had rather than threats to be avoided can be the difference between pleasure and pain; excitement and dread; joy and suffering.
The key insight here is that we have some choice over how we appraise the challenges that will inevitably permeate our lives, and that this ability to choose is a wellspring of psychological strength and resilience in the face of any adversity - including winter, and a even a global pandemic.
So we can't stop the temperature from plummeting, but we can stock up on baking supplies to create our favourite desserts. We can't stop the snow from falling, but we can resolve to cozy up under a thick blanket with a good book as the sun sets earlier and earlier on colder and colder evenings. We can't stop winter, but we can decide to 'lean into it' and find positive ways to enjoy it.
So is this winter shaping up to be a particularly challenging one? In a very real sense, that is up to you to decide.
For more thoughts on choosing coziness over disdain this winter, check out the Danish concept of hygge: "a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being".
References: Leibowitz, K., & Vittersø, J. (2020). Winter is coming: Wintertime mindset and wellbeing in Norway. International Journal of Wellbeing, 10(4), 35-54. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v10i4.935