Another month, another lockdown. But – while this one has a clear end in sight (if Boris Johnson’s promise of a 2 December ‘unlocking’ is to be believed, anyway) – we suspect that this one will prove harder for many, as it’s taking place in the bleak midwinter.
Thanks to those shorter days and colder climes, the thought of heading outside to get our daily exercise quota is less than alluring. Nor is the thought of queuing, face mask in hand, around the pavement for the local Co-op.
And, while we can meet up with one person from another household this time around, we haven’t figured out the logistics yet. After all, we can’t exactly meet them for a picnic in the sleet and rain now, can we?
It’s understandable, then, that many of us are embracing the idea of settling into a quasi-hibernation. We’re staying indoors anyway, we reason, so why shouldn’t we hunker down with endless mugs of hot chocolate and binge-watch every single romcom on Netflix?
Well, quite. And, believe us, we’re every bit as into building a duvet fortress and watching nonstop Agatha Christie adaptations on TV as you are. However, there are some important things to bear in mind if you’re hellbent on settling into hibernation mode.
Adjust your lighting
Harsh fluorescents are not what you need when you’re feeling stressed; invest in lamps with warm, orangey light and dot them around the house. Not only will they be much more soothing on the eyes, but they are also scientifically proven to relieve stress and create an aura of calm.
Light a scented candle (or five)
Scented candles create little pools of radiance around your home, true, but opting for certain scents, such as vanilla, lavender, or chamomile, can trigger a chemical reaction in the brain that aids relaxation. Cucumber flavoured candles, in particular,are said to aid anxiety, because the scent is so deeply rooted in nostalgic childhood picnics.
When you’re bundled up in winter woolies and still shivering like mad, a tall drink of water may be the last thing on your mind. However, it’s important to keep hydrated, so make sure you get your daily liquid quota via hot beverages, like herbal teas or even just hot water with lemon.
Plus, as noted by Everyday Health, researchers at Yale University have found that things that warm drinks actually possess the power to help people feel happier and less lonely.
“It’s tempting to go into hibernation mode when winter hits, but that sleepy feeling you get does not mean you should snooze for longer,” explains an NHS spokesperson.
“In fact, if you sleep too much, chances are you’ll feel even more sluggish during the day. We do not actually need any more sleep in winter than we do in summer – aim for about eight hours of shut-eye a night, and try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.”
Treat yourself to hot baths and showers
Your muscles and joints may feel a little more stiff in the winter, so loosen them up (and soothe other aches and pains) with a hot bubble bath or shower.
Get your hot chocolate on
Why? Well, the chemicals and compounds responsible for the positive effect are flavonoids, a natural substance found in almost all fruits and vegetables and phenylethylamine (PEA), an organic compound that stimulates the central nervous system. Chocolate compounds are said to share the same feel-good effects on the brain as cannabis.
Pop a few cubes of the dark stuff (or milk chocolate, if you prefer) in a mug, top up with hot milk or a hot milk alternative, and voila!
No matter where you’re working, making a conscious effort to stop work for a moment, even if it’s just to make a cup of tea in your special mug, is vital. Keep a stash of your favourite teabags in your drawer, and make sure you use them. And be sure to take your full lunch hour, too; run some errands, go for a walk, or simply grab a book and find a snuggly spot to read.
Try adhering to Stylist’s WFH 5-a-day guide, if you need a little extra help with this.
A lack of sunlight means your brain produces more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy. To combat this, try to adapt your schedule around the shorter days, and make time to get outside during your lunch break or in the late afternoon.
… and exercise
As per NHS guidelines, we should be aiming for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (brisk walking, hiking, riding a bike) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (jogging or running, aerobics, walking up the stairs) a week.
Essentially, get your body to release stress the natural way: by using it. It’s all wound up inside – moving it will unwind it, naturally.
Most importantly of all? Stay connected
Remember hygge, that viral lifestyle trend that saw everyone rushing out to buy candles, cashmere blankets, giant cushions and woolly socks back in 2016? Well, while it was widely translated as ‘stay warm and stay cosy’, the Danish concept is actually all about making time for the people you love most.
“Hygge is the sensation of familiarity, of being seen and recognised, and feeling at home,” explains Marie Tourell Søderberg in her book, Hygge, The Danish Art of Happiness.
“You experience it when you are able to be fully present in the moment, and feel content and at ease. Hygge often happens when you are together with the people closest to you, your nearest and dearest; people with whom you can be open and sincere with, where you don’t have to pretend to be anything besides who you are.”
Yes, we’re going into lockdown – but that doesn’t mean we have to shut ourselves away from the world. Because, as we learned the first time around, technology like Zoom and WhatsApp has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with loved ones.
With that in mind, then, please schedule in some time each week for socialising. Embrace phone calls with friends and family. Get back into the world of Zoom quizzes (yes, you’re allowed to roll your eyes) and virtual escape rooms. Strive to arrange walks with that one (1) person. Smile at people when you’re out and about (if you’re wearing a mask, try ‘smizing’).
And please, please, please don’t forget to check in on those who are stuck at home alone – because, while a period of hibernation might sound bloody brilliant to you, it may very well be their worst nightmare.
Essentially, stay warm, stay cosy, and stay connected. We’ll be here to see you through it.