Navigating Safety & Sanity During a Pandemic Winter

By Shaida Hossein, OTD, Behavioral Health Education & Training Manager, and Lena Neufeld, PSY.D., Teen & Young Adult Therapist. 

There is no doubt about it: This sucks. The one-two punch of COVID-19 safety restrictions tightening as the weather shifts to winter conditions presents a double whammy. This year’s change of seasons is uniquely challenging. Over the summer, the outdoors provided refuge from the pandemic: We picnicked in parks, camped in our backyards and set up movie projectors in the driveway; restaurants with outdoor seating adorned our sidewalks and streets; bike sales skyrocketed and home gardening projects bloomed. In many ways, the summer illustrated the astounding adaptability of humans. It wasn’t ideal, but we found ways to make it work.

This winter we must, once again, reimagine what it means to stay connected, healthy and sane. In order to do so, thinking creatively and planning ahead is key. In a recent New York Times article, Dr. Bethany Teachman, a psychologist who specializes in anxiety explained, “Plan now before it gets very cold… it’s actually much harder to make and implement plans once you’re already feeling anxious and distressed.”

Below are some ideas and inspiration for safe winter activities that we hope will make the difference between a fulfilling, rejuvenating winter and a stressful, bleak one.

Make a Plan

Since September 2020, COVID-19 infections have steadily increased and public health officials reported that the COVID-19 “disease transmission is happening at an accelerated pace across the entire state of Washington.” In early December 2020, Governor Jay Inslee extended our state’s COVID-19 restrictions through January 4, and on December 30, the statewide restrictions were extended again—this time through January 11.

Although the arrival of vaccines signal a glimmer of hope, we must still maintain the safety precautions we learned in 2020: Wearing  masks around people we don’t live with, washing our hands frequently, getting our flu shots, staying home if we are sick and limiting the number, size and frequency of gatherings.

Given the level of impact COVID-19 has had, you are likely going to have to adjust goals that you previously set to accomplish. When it comes to adjusting your goals, you can ask yourself:

  • What makes sense for you to pursue right now?
  • What goals might be unrealistic or not help you feel better at this time?
  • What can provide you with meaningful connection?

Goals have the ability to help us determine our priorities and direct our focus to what is important. This winter, it will be vital for us to plan ahead so we can stay connected, because as the New York Times article stated, “We are social creatures, and we can’t fight the pandemic by socially isolating ourselves.” If your hope is to stay emotionally and socially connected, setting goals now can help you stay motivated during future COVID-19 challenges and restrictions that will inevitably come up.

To begin the goal writing process, it can be helpful to come up with a tool to create your goals and how you will succeed in accomplishing that goal. One strategy can be to use “SMART” goals. “SMART” is an acronym, and it stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound:

  • Begin with writing your goal that you have in mind.
  • Specific: This is the mission statement of your goal. What do you want to accomplish? Who needs to be included? Why is this a goal?
  • Measurement: Determine the metrics you will use to meet your goal. How can you measure progress and know if you’ve successfully met your goal?
  • Achievable: Think about how to accomplish this goal and ask yourself if there are any tools or skills you need first. What is the motivation for this goal?
  • Relevant: Ask yourself if this aligns with the value or benefit of your overall goal. Why am I setting this goal now?
  • Time-Bound: Choose a target date and note any time constraints. What’s the deadline, and is it realistic?
  • Review what you have written, and create a new goal based on the answers that you have provided using the SMART tool.

As you are creating your goals, you may encounter the need to establish boundaries when it comes to how you want to stay safe and healthy. During COVID-19, we have all determined the risks we are comfortable with, and yours may be different from others’ behaviors and actions. Washington state’s official COVID-19 response page offers a tool called, “The COVID Chat”, which offers tips and strategies on how to communicate your needs to family and friends.

Now that you’ve established your goals and boundaries, here are some ideas and inspiration for winter opportunities (additional virtual resources can be found in our Digital Wellness blog post):

  • Recreational Entertainment/Activities
    • Watch sporting events and parades from home
    • Tune in to cinema classes and/or virtual group movie nights
    • Shop online rather than in person
    • Try a humorous outlet such as a comedy special
  • Self-Soothing Activities
    • Take gardening indoors with houseplants of all varieties
    • Participate in a reading challenge (some are offered through the King County Library System and the Seattle Public Library)
    • Relax in a nice, long bath
    • Use your hands to create something (knitting, crocheting, sewing, painting, origami and puzzles all fit the bill)
    • Incorporate calming aromas into your home, like candles and incenses
    • Tackle “to-do” lists such as digitizing and printing photos, scrapbooking, organizing and decluttering
  • Social Connection Activities & Digital Wellness
    • Create vibrant outdoor spaces
      • Utilize available garage space
      • Bring the grill and BBQ into wintertime
      • If you’re able, consider investing in firepits, space heaters or open-air tents for patios and yards
    • Participate in virtual book clubs and board games with family and friends
    • Keep up with phone calls, FaceTime chats, Zoom and Skype calls
    • Write letters, send postcards and cards near and far
    • Drop a care package off at a loved one’s home
    • Leave an encouraging message on a social post
    • Cooking
      • Look into remote offerings like the King County Library System’s Cook & Chat for Teens
      • Host a remote potluck of your own for family and friends
      • Learn a recipe with members of your household (such as challah) or share an ingredient list ahead of time, and then get together virtually to try cooking or baking
    • Share music playlists with loved ones
    • Participate in online art opportunities
  • Outdoor Activities 
    • Hit the slopes to take advantage of sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing and skiing
    • Take up roller-skating, biking, walking, skateboarding or hiking—just be sure to check local weather conditions first before embarking on an adventure
    • Support local restaurants, farms and vendors through take-out or trips to the farmer’s market
    • Explore local neighborhoods in the city through urban walks
    • Visit the Woodland Park Zoo (their WildLanterns light display runs through late January 17, 2021!)
    • Remember to keep your head, hands and feet warm with pocket warmers or mittens. As the old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
We recognize the impact that COVID-19 is having on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness. If you need mental health support right now, please contact or (206)-861-3152. JFS is here to help, and we offer our services on a sliding scale. We accept insurance as well. You can also visit our Counseling & Addiction Services webpage here for more information, as well as our Project DVORA (domestic violence services) page here. In addition to our 1:1 counseling services, we provide dedicated parent coaching (1-3 sessions available) and mental health education workshops and training.

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