Managing the challenges of winter
Many people find it hard to like winter. Add the challenges of caregiving in the age of COVID-19 to the cold, snow, ice and long nights, and this becomes a season that’s even harder to deal with.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get through the cold months safely and even happily.
Find time for yourself
While caregivers often focus more energy on their loved ones’ needs than their own, it’s important to devote some time to self-care. That goes for every season of the year, including winter.
Just 15–30 minutes a day can make a difference. If you can’t leave your loved one for that long, ask someone to relieve you. Think about how you can involve family and friends in helping with caregiving. Perhaps a neighbor or other family member could stay with your loved one while you take a break.
Embrace the winter
Nature uses winter to rejuvenate and get ready for spring. This is a good time for you to rejuvenate too, so you can be your best for your loved one.
Take the opportunity to embrace all that winter has to offer by getting outside regularly. The fresh air and sunlight on those bright but cold days can do wonders for your state of mind. Sunlight, a natural mood booster, triggers the brain’s production of serotonin, which decreases anxiety and gives you a sense of well-being. Sunlight also helps reset your body clock, keeping the sleep–wake cycle in sync.
If your loved one is able to join you sometimes, they may experience the same benefits. Here are some ideas for outdoor activities:
- Go for a walk. Bring your loved one if you think they’re stable enough on their feet. Be sure the surfaces you’re walking on are secure and free of ice. Dress warmly, wear sturdy boots and go. Being outside can have a calming effect on your mood.
- Notice the birds. You’ll see plenty of them while you’re walking. Or set up a feeder in your yard, so you can enjoy seeing the different kinds of birds who come to feast on your birdseed. Your loved one may find it fun to watch them, too.
- Take photos. You may be surprised by how much beauty you find outdoors, especially in the winter. If your loved one isn’t up to taking photos or accompanying you, you can share your images when you go inside again.
- Jog, hike, snowshoe, skate, ski. Any form of physical activity can boost your mood and help you relax. Exercise can help caregivers reduce the risk of getting a chronic disease, and it can also decrease stress.
Enjoy the indoors
If it’s too cold or icy, your caregiving responsibilities don’t allow you to get outside, or you truly can’t stand the winter weather, find ways to relax and recharge indoors. These are some activities that you may want to try on your own or, if possible, with your loved one:
- Try a different recipe, or enhance one you already make by adding different vegetables, herbs and spices.
- Work on a home improvement or art project.
- Read. A book can become group entertainment if you read it aloud.
- Find a quiet spot to have a mug of hot cocoa or tea.
- Watch a movie, a concert or a favorite TV show on your own or with your loved one. Or watch home movies. Play them 10–15 minute at a time if longer periods aren’t possible.
- Meditate, practice yoga or try mindfulness. Try an online meditation or exercise class.
- Refresh your space with colorful decorative pillows, scented candles or a bouquet of fresh flowers.
- Contact someone you miss. Call, write a letter or reach out via video chat apps such as Zoom, FaceTime or WhatsApp. Connecting with others may help you deal with the social isolation that is so common during the pandemic.
- Eat a healthy snack. During winter months, people tend to eat more comfort foods. Nutrition is important for caregivers as well as those receiving care.
- Express gratitude. It can have a positive effect on your mood and help boost someone else’s. Write a thank you note to someone who helped you in the past.
Be ready for storms and power outages
You may feel more relaxed if you know you’re prepared for possible power outages and impassable roads during storms, whether during the winter or any other season. Here are some things you can do in advance to be ready for a storm. Don’t wait for bad weather to be in the forecast—prepare well before that.
- Stock up on water, non-perishable food, flashlights and batteries.
- Make sure you have all the medical supplies and prescription medications you and your loved one need. If you happen to get caught without medical supplies during a storm, check with your pharmacy to see if they have a delivery service.
- If your loved one needs oxygen, contact your electric company to get on a list for priority service in case the power goes out. Or consider buying or borrowing a generator.
- Make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors work.
- Keep your cell phone, laptop and portable chargers fully charged.
- Put contact information for your loved one’s health care provider, the police department, the fire department and any other important contacts into your phone. Also write them on paper and post it in a place where you can easily find it, even if you lose electricity.
- Have plenty of blankets and sweaters handy.
Having these items and plans in place now will save you a lot of worry and stress if a storm does come.
With all these tips, you’ll be ready for the best—and worst—of winter.Brenda Juskavitch, CTTS-M, is Health Promotions Supervisor at Fallon Health. Find more health and wellness tips and caregiver resources on Fallon’s website.