• Silvana Barone

Preparing for a COVID winter: Part 1 - Getting outside and prioritizing mental health

I live in Montreal, where winters can be long and harsh, and where people flock outside in early Spring the minute temperatures start to drift above freezing. With the spring of 2020 marked by the declaration of a global pandemic, school closures and a more general lockdown, many of us breathed a sigh of relief as the weather improved and we were finally able to start enjoying the outdoors with our close family and friends. The ability to play outside with our kids, head to the park or the beach, or dine outside while maintaining safe distances allowed for some freedom after a few difficult months. As summer turned to Fall, we turned to apple picking and pumpkin patches to get our families out of the house.

preparing for covid-19 winter family ice skating

As cases of COVID-19 rise again and we head into the second wave of pandemic, we are once again faced with so much uncertainty – this time without the promise of summer on the horizon. Days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder, which can have the effect of driving us indoors. We know, however, how important it is both for children to spend time outside and to be physically active. In this context, it will be more important than ever to make plans to keep our kids moving outdoors! This applies to parents as well, who continue to feel the impacts of juggling work, childcare and, perhaps, caring for an elderly parent without many opportunities for leisure or time alone.

My two overarching messages here are:

  1. Exercise is so important for everyone’s physical and mental health, so find a way to keep it incorporated into your daily routine, even as temperatures drop. The easiest way? Get outside and play in the snow with your kids! (even if it’s not usually your thing)

  2. When you have to be indoors – do things that make you and the kids feel good and bring a little extra “special” to the day or evening, even on a weekday. It’s important that this doesn’t become a source of stress or add to your mental load as a parent. I’m taking things that are easy, fun, and/or relaxing (hopefully) for everyone.

Here are some more detailed tips for getting outside and finding some enjoyment in the winter months despite the pandemic.

  1. The coronavirus continues to circulate in the community and when considering risk associated with leisure activities, outdoors is generally safer than indoors. Make plans to get outside with your kids whenever you can, barring dangerously cold temperatures. Yes, it’s a lot of work to bundle up an infant and toddler for a neighborhood stroll or a short stay at the park– but it can do wonders for everyone’s mood!

  2. Find moments in the day to get exposure to sunlight. If you are working from home all day, go for a walk on your lunch break. Daytime exposure to sunlight can have positive effects on sleep and mood, and triggers vitamin D production by your skin. A light therapy lamp can also help, particularly for those who are predisposed to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

  3. Proper outdoor gear is more important than ever! The Scandinavians have a saying: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. I don’t like going out in the winter – it’s frigid and I usually just end up complaining the whole time about being cold and my hands hurting. Have you ever noticed that kids love playing outside in the winter and don’t seem to mind the cold at all? Well the difference might be due to the fact that part of me is still holding onto the twenty-something who insists on walking to dinner in nice jeans and a light coat when it’s -20 - NOT a good idea if you want to actually spend time outside and not complain about how insufferable it is (or worse, get frostbite!) The children, meanwhile, are bundled up in thermal long-johns, a snowsuit, proper hat, scarf and gloves and couldn’t be happier. Invest in good gear for everyone this year and get out there!

  4. Outdoor activities that are considered low risk include: walking on a trail or in the city, playing in the snow at the park, tubing/sledding, snowshoeing, outdoor ice skating and cross-country skiing.

  5. Make the most of indoor time as well. Make evenings at home extra special with warm snuggly socks, movie nights, and hot cocoa. Cook up some comfort food with your older kids (mac ‘n cheese, anyone?) Start decorating for Christmas early and involve your children in making home-made decorations. Some good activities to have on hand include puzzles, board games, books, building blocks or magnetic tiles, arts and craft supplies and anything you can use to play make-believe with younger kids (toy kitchen, costumes, dollhouse, train set).

It’s important for us to have things to look forward to, but when we spend the entire week looking forward to the weekend, we miss out on the other 260 or so days of the year. In the same way, if we just see winter as something to “get through”, we’re missing out on 4 months of family memories.

Look out for Preparing for a COVID winter: part 2 where I’ll talk about what medical supplies you should have on hand to keep your kids healthy and comfortable this winter!