Dealing With Winter Blues: COVID Edition

Since countries around the world have entered a second lockdown, working from home is once again the only option for many. This time around, the Norther Hemisphere also serves up the cold and dark months of winter. Last year, we rounded up some of the best ways to deal with the winter blues as remote worker. If you haven’t read it, make sure to catch up here. However, COVID has brought on new challenges and restrictions that make some of these more challenging than others. Where a trip or quick relocation to a warmer climate would’ve been the fix for cold weather, travel is much harder to realise these days. We’ve learnt a lot from the first lockdown. So what routines and strategies can we implement this time around?

Feeling “blue” in winter is quite common, but there is a difference between winter blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), even though they share similar symptoms.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood, low self-esteem
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Feeling angry, irritable, stressed, or anxious
  • Changes in sleeping pattern
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair

This article does not aim to deliver medical advice. Make sure to see a doctor for a clinical diagnosis if you experience these symptoms.

Build up resilience to beat the winter blues

dealing with seasonal depression through movement and meditation
Photo by Maryjoy Caballero on Unsplash

When our only outdoor activities are grocery shopping and exercising, it’s important to make the most of this time.

  • Include a brisk walk or run to your routine to start and/or end your workday can clear your head. Even if it’s snowing, bundle up and walk to a point that you’ve set for yourself. That may be the park down the road, the lake or the blue house at the end of the street. Not everyone has access to a garden for fresh air so going for a run or a gentle jog outdoors will help clear your mind and get you ready for what’s next.
  • If outdoor activities are completely impossible for you at the moment, use indoor sports to boost serotonin and get your blood pumping. This not only counteracts potential back and neck pain caused by hunching over the computer screen. It also increases focus, re-energises and can serves as a useful addition to your routines to provide structure for your day.

Morning stretches to start your day:

  • Low back stretch
  • Glute stretch
  • Pelvic tilt
  • Piriformis stretch

Easy daily exercise you can do on a 5-minute mini break:

  • Lunges
  • Pushups
  • Squats
  • Side Planks

Prioritise good quality sleep

Plenty of good quality sleep is one key ingredient to dealing with the winter blues successfully. The tricky thing with sleep in the dark winter season is that you may fall into the trap of getting to much of it. This can make you feel even more sluggish and actually decrease your energy levels.

It is normal to sleep a little longer in winter, but try to keep your shut-eye between 7 and 9 hours per night. In addition, to maintain good sleep hygiene, try to

  • Go to bed at roughly the same time every evening.
  • Stay away from screens and anything overstimulating at least one hour before you go to bed.
  • Install blue-light filters on your devices after dark, for example f.lux for your computer, or Night Shift on your mobile.
  • Use blue-light filter glasses when you watch TV and/or when you look at your devices.
  • Avoid heavy dinners and alcohol; both radically decrease your sleep quality.

Set a schedule and stick to it

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

45% of workers said they experienced burnout before April due to a lack of work-life balance. Now we need to learn and improve the past. Set working hours and don’t miss them. Similar to working in the office if that makes the comparison easier. Use your free time to meet your needs. Watch that TV show, pick up or reconnect to a hobby or spend time with the kids. Now is the time to use that dusty guitar in the closet.

If you’re suffering from a lack of concentration whilst working then try the Pomodoro technique. A simple productivity method that can easily be implemented into your daily routine.

  1. Select the task to complete
  2. Set the Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes 
  3. Process the task until the timer  rings, then tick it off
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is enough) 
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break of about 20 minutes

Apps are great for this and there are plenty to choose from. Out of the many tried and tested applications Forest is a fun choice. Every completed session you collect coins and watch your tree grow. The coins can then be used to buy new trees. Even better, Forest lets you plant real trees that way. Long gone are the traditional tomato timer days. 

Take time away from screens

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Often overlooked in favour of the hustle are hobbies. If it’s something you enjoy it doesn’t need to be made for profit. Let go and have fun by reconnecting to old hobbies. Whether that is painting, experimenting with new materials or picking up a long forgotten instrument, reconnect with something you used to enjoy. We’re spending most of our days glued to the computer screen and then staring to the phone screen or TV. Now is the time to unplug and reconnect to your past self, future self and create the best current self you can be. So how does a mini digital detox work (even if you get back to the screen after)?

  1. Look back at your old hobbies! What did you want to be when you grew up? These are things you enjoyed so thoroughly as a kid but then life got in the way and you lost your passion. Yet now you look at those dancers on TV and say “I can do that!”. Now that you have identified what you enjoy but originally didn’t have time for, put it into action. Follow some youtube dance tutorials, read some books about astronomy and paint your first canvas again. 
  2. Explore new hobbies! To make it easy on you, pick something that doesn’t require years of training to make you reap rewards. Especially puzzles and crafts have seen a surge in popularity this year.
  3. Set a timer daily. This can be in the morning before you start work or the hour before you go to bed. If you have time for Netflix then you have time for a new hobby. Setting a daily detox timer will help create a habit. If you’re really committed to making your habit stick then do this for 30 days.

Use music as a mood booster

grey skies but fresh air help dealing with seasonal depression
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Music is an amazing thing. Not only can it improve your memory and aid learning but it’s also a great mood booster. Studies show that music can reduce anxiety and make people feel a lot calmer and less depressed. Sadly it’s not a cure, but at least if you have to force your self to be productive, then music can help by decreasing fatigue. So if you’ve been avoiding your workout playlist for work maybe it’s time to give it a go. Another study shows that music can improve cognitive behaviour in adults. So basically more upbeat music means working faster and if you add downbeat music then it aids your memory. 

Lastly, you can try Binaural Beats. This trend in sound frequencies can be used for various things, with preliminary studies showing that different frequency levels relate to different experiences. There is a form of Binaural beats therapy using alpha, delta and theta frequencies that may aid depression and low moods. There are others that may improve cognitive thinking and increased attention.

  • Alpha pattern: A frequency of 7–13 Hz for relaxation.
  • Delta pattern: A frequency of 0.5–4 Hz for deeper stages of sleep.
  • Theta pattern: A frequency of 4–-7 Hz for better relaxation, mood, and creativity.

Before listening it’s important to do your research or speak to a professional. That being said, Binaural beats therapy is really accessible with many playlists on Youtube and Spotify.

Get out of your comfort zone

Absolutely hate cold showers? They might be the easiest thing to do, to get you out of your comfort zone. Push yourself to do something you normally avoid because it’s uncomfortable or hard. Accomplishing this will give you an immediate boost and sense of accomplishment.

Consider relocating if you are stuck in a cold, dark country

Photo by Krystal Black on Unsplash

While traveling seems much harder these days, it isn’t impossible. However, with quarantine and other restrictions, short weekend getaways are somewhat out of the question. Last year we already mentioned workations in our post about dealing with seasonal depression.

This year, finding the perfect destination requires a bit more research, but there still are options. Instead of limiting your workation to a few weeks, find a spot that works for several months. Whilst this isn’t advisable in large cities with a high number of COVID cases, off the grid homes are just as good, if not better. Choose a secluded location such as a beach home or somewhere in the mountains and stay for multiple months. It’s a great way to practice social distancing whilst also benefitting from the change in weather and longer sunlight hours.

If you prefer being closer to a community, co-living spaces like Outsite are also still taking guests. So if you’re planning to escape the cold but want some company they are a great option. Hotels are also following suite. Loneliness is one of the only downsides to remote work and co-living seems to be a great solution for many.

No matter where you go, alone or otherwise, it’s important to be mindful and do your research. Even though travel isn’t advised, we are all human and our mental health matters, too.

We enable businesses to build their successful remote workforce. We support with remote work advisory and remote talent for open positions. If you are looking to support your remote team’s mental health during COVID & beyond, schedule a free strategy session.

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