Surviving isolation

Winter may encourage you to hibernate, which means that you need to be proactive about your physical and mental well-being.

by Colin and Justin

It’s been a ride, huh? But there’s no denying it: Ontario’s Cottage Country is the perfect environment in which to lock out the world, seeking shelter from a pandemic that engulfs our every turn. Couple the escape quotient in these environs with (what we see as) a safer world in which to improve mental health, and, with a good wind, we might just be on course to emerge, triumphant, from our lockdown years. And indeed ready for better, and we hope brighter, times ahead.

In the meantime, while archetypal Canadian winters encourage many to behave like bears, hibernating away the sprawling, frigid months, it’s fair to observe that most humans also struggle to tolerate endless, unfulfilling time at home. They (we) tussle to avoid the ominous feeling that precious time is being wasted, in an oft unfulfilled search to contribute to the greater good.

Sure, being a couple makes it easier, but, even with unstinting mutual support, we still employ a roster of daily rules to avoid going stir crazy. For us, it’s all about the elusive precious life balance of physical and mental health. In the same way that, physically speaking, we promise to (literally) raise the bar at this time of year, so too can COVID mental weight be shifted by adopting a carefully planned “exercise” regimen.

Hit the trails

Embarking upon a brisk walk not only counts as valuable physical activity, but, as a precursor to augmented wellbeing, the uptick in pulse levels will help you shine. Numerous studies demonstrate that walking lifts the spirits, while focussing the mind and unleashing creativity. And when engaged in this simple exercise – against the natural beauty  of Cottage Country – the emotional effects are surely furthered. So, without further ado, get your boots – and toques – on, poles in hand, and march your way to happiness.

Employ a daily routine

It makes sense to structure life with a carefully managed timetable to avoid becoming lost in inefficiencies of a poorly planned day. Establish – and adhere to – work hours and adopt a regular bedtime and wake-up pattern to ensure you enjoy long, quality sleeps. Typically, we aim for seven hours, and, to make this happen, we employ a wind-down routine each night. The TV is turned off at least an hour before bed and we practice deep breathing and meditation, helped by our new best friend, a Tibetan singing bowl, whose smooth gong-like sound is the last word in relaxation.

Be safely social

Whilst mindful of physical distance between ourselves and others, we don’t feel overly lonely or isolated. Maintaining a measured degree of socialisation is an important element of who we are – we’re social creatures, and we strive, wherever possible, to keep lines of communication open courtesy of Facetime, Messenger and Zoom. The emerging buzz phrase “distantly socialising” (rather than socially distancing) keeps the conversation going to ensure everyone feels happy and involved.

If you need further stimulation, check out online events and digital gatherings where like-minds come together to discuss and share opinions. We attended a Royksopp music video promo on YouTube recently and live chatted the launch with other music lovers. It was great fun, and a wonderful way to remain part of the conversation, aware of what’s going on around us.

Find the positive in the negative

With kids spending much more time at home, and a higher number of adults than ever before working on the domestic front, a unique opportunity to spend quality time with family (while engaged in fun, bonding experiences) has emerged. Free your imagination and engage with pastimes which you mightn’t normally have time, like baking, board games or puzzles. These group moments also provide a golden opportunity for conversation and sharing, the very roots of self-improvement.

top view of cropped family playing jigsaw puzzle game on table

Focussed stimulation

Finding moments for oneself can be difficult, but it’s important to indulge in a little “me time.” Colouring books for adults, or word puzzle magazines, are great tools as they create focus and effectively silence (if just for a few rewarding moments) the world around. Building mediums like Lego or jigsaws proffer an extra layer of creativity that can in turn add to the calm state of peace in which you’ll find yourself. It’s important to recognise that me time is far from selfish: it’s about taking care of yourself so you can take better care of others.

Banish the doom

If you tend to dwell on the darker side, distracted by what ifs and worst-case scenarios, exploring mindfulness and mindfulness can best be described as a sequence of affirmations applicable to various situations, as they occur, throughout the day.

Meditation, on the other hand, is typically practiced for a focussed or set amount of time. Search online for downloadable self-help apps such as “Mindshift CBT” (recommended by Anxiety Canada), “Calm” or “Headspace.” Each is a great tool to explore mindfulness and meditation.

Being immersed in nature can also tip the scales towards positivity and happiness. This in mind, explore the great outdoors – be it your garden, a public park or an accessible scenic spot – to clear your head and promote “clean” thinking.

Eat yourself happy

Taking care of your diet doesn’t only make you look healthier, it has a positive effect of wellbeing. When we look good, we feel good: fact. On a chemical level, certain foods are happy triggers, and enhancing diet with these may help you feel better. Chicken, turkey, chickpeas, fish and whole milk contain tryptophan, a vital component for a wide range of metabolic functions that affect mood, cognition and behaviour. Foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, chia, or walnuts) may help lower feelings of depression, while dark chocolate, nuts and avocado contain magnesium, a nutrient that may help regulate mood. The Government of Canada publishes a useful guide at Food-Guide.Canada.ca with tips and recipes to help you make good decisions.

Chase the feel good factor

Listening to music can have a hugely positive effect on psyche, so plan a daily soundtrack and fill it with your favourite tunes. Self-affirming podcasts, feel-good movies and good news websites can also bolster the positivity factor, especially when daily news is so weighed down with doom and gloom. Create your own “feels” by offering assistance to friends and neighbours, mindful that even the smallest gestures can add up to a whole lot of goodness.

Build awareness

In summation, the foregoing advice roster isn’t about putting your head in the sand and ignoring what’s happening around the world: it’s more about building an awareness of self and positivity. And when functioning in your optimal gear, those around you will also feel the heat. It’s all about tipping the scale towards wellbeing, so you’re enabled and better equipped to face whatever comes your way, with a renewed sense of hope and positivity.

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