A Long, Cold, Lonely Winter?

Debbie Ballard

In the two years before I retired I had a running list of things I wanted to do when I retired. Some of them are bucket list kinds of things; others fall into the “I will tackle the things I have been putting off for years” category. Taking down the wallpaper in the bathroom and addressing the sad state of my yard were in the “tackle” category. Another list item was to relieve myself and my chocolate making partner of the physical demands of trying to get 100 plus lbs of hand dipped chocolates done in 10 days. I’ll let you know how that works out.

Bucket list things are going to be harder. We can’t go anywhere. We have to be so careful with every single thing we do outside our homes. We can’t gather in large groups. It sucks. All the things that used to get us through a brutal northern Ontario winter are gone. The months spent in warmer climates, watching the grandkids play sports, evenings at the arena watching hockey, going to the gym or a walk at the arena . . . even work has changed for just about everyone.

The last eight months have been a trial. Now we’re facing winter. How do we get through the next six months with our sanity intact? Without all our usual winter pursuits, what should we be doing to stay sane and healthy during this COVID Controlled Winter?

Like anything, things tend to go better if you have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a point-by-point plan, just a few ideas of what you will do with yourself over the next few months. Some of the decisions you make will have an impact on your quality of life this winter.

So . . . please don’t decide to sit at home and stare at your computer or TV all day and all night. Find one thing that will help your physical fitness. Walk (if you’re able) until it’s too cold to walk. Buy clothes that make it possible for you to walk. And cleats for your boots if necessary. A walk once or twice a week will get you through the winter in relatively good shape. I know from personal experience that sitting in a chair for 10 hours a day and then going to bed is nothing but bad news for your body and for your mental health. Yes, I am harping about exercise AGAIN! Seriously, try to find a way to stay active. Find a friend to do it with so you won’t come up with an excuse every day to not get out and do something. The less you do physically right now has an almost devastating impact on your quality of life in the years ahead.

Do something that gives your day purpose. Grocery shopping or meeting for coffee or cleaning the bathroom. Doesn’t matter. Plan something every day. I will admit that I have to be pretty desperate to put cleaning the bathroom on my to-do list but if I have nothing else going on, I do it. Gets me out of my chair. Big projects like cleaning closets (or taking down wallpaper) are good because they can take several days. Just like that, you knock a week off winter.

Be social. I know, easier said than done right now, but it’s still do-able. A small book club, card group, coffee group – any activity that involves talking and interacting with others. Everyone in the group has to be on the same page regarding their own COVID risk potential. The important point is to be social. There’s lots of research to back up the health benefits of a robust social life.

Studies have shown that social isolation has the same detrimental effect on your health as 15 cigarettes a day. I know I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. Social engagement is so much more difficult with COVID restrictions.

Seniors who are lonely or isolated can now request contact from volunteers through the Fort Frances Seniors Companion Project. Even if you’re not lonely you could volunteer to help with this program. It’s an easy way to volunteer without getting into a new social circle. All contact is by telephone right now. There is a training program that you can take in person or remotely if you prefer.

You can find out more about the Senior Company Project on the Town of Fort Frances website under community services or call Andrea Avis, the project co-ordinator at 271-6370.

Spend time with your grandkids. Play games with them, go on outings together, give them a ride when they need it. There’s lots of benefit there, for you and your grands. Plus it gives parents a break. And it’s a social activity.

Work part time. Yes, work. If the thought of endless days with nothing to do bothers you, find part time work that is safe for you to do. When I was out shopping a while ago, I ran into someone who used to work at the bank. It took me a minute to realize that here was a bank person working somewhere else. Being a bit nosy I had to ask why she wasn’t working at the bank. She had retired from the bank. One week into her retirement she decided that it wasn’t for her so she got a part-time job. She has purpose in her life and is able to interact with people when she’s working. Win, win.

Better yet, volunteer. A few hours a week spent helping others is enormously beneficial to your sense of self-worth and well being. And it’s social . . .

Take a course. There are lots of on-line options for learning new skills or improving on existing skills. Teachers in almost every field have learned to adapt to the COVID world. Learning something new is very good for your brain. Learning a new language is supposed to be extra beneficial. So if a winter in Spain is on your bucket list, sign up for an on-line Spanish course. Or just learn more about your computer, tablet or mobile phone. They are amazing bits of technology and most of us are probably aware of only a tiny percentage of their potential. Learning more about your electronics will help you to avoid frustration.

The internet has given us the world. Take advantage of the learning opportunities a computer or iPad and an internet connection provide. If you have no idea how to go about doing this, ask your kids or grandkids. Or check around to see if you can find someone who can help you. You can also sign up for college or university classes on-line if that interests you.

Even with COVID restrictions, getting through the summer was fairly easy. Gardening, golf, walks on the riverfront, home improvement projects, the cottage, sitting and socializing outside on the deck or in the yard all gave us a sense of normalcy in our lives. With winter hard upon us it’s hard to figure out how to have any sense of normal. Planning to do one or two things on a regular basis will help. The old adage about “the more you do, the more you want to do” applies here. COVID is going to be with us for a while so we do need to adjust in a healthy way.

Right now I feel lucky that I have a month of chocolate making ahead of me and then a month that I will spend decorating my house and getting ready for Christmas. I never thought I would view the whole chocolate thing as lucky. It was always a big chore that had to be done in a very tight time frame. Now we have the luxury of more time and I’m excited about the chocolate making possibilities that the luxury of time brings. No doubt I will find something for January and February too, even if it’s only rug hooking or knitting.

So, with a bit of planning, we can get through this winter and maybe even enjoy it. Ok, let me re-phrase that. We can enjoy what we’re doing and enjoy our lives. There is not a chance that I will ever enjoy 40 below. It does not, however, have to be (as George Harrison wrote) a long, cold, lonely winter.