Mentally Preparing For The Cold

There is something very exciting about the first chills in the air and the first snow coming down. And then, for many of us, the excitement wears off and the dark days add a layer of sedation and isolation. Compounded with the last almost two years of those same challenges – the impending cold and winter are something that many of my clients are trying to gear up for.  

Gearing up is frequently about worry and nervousness without strategy. Which ultimately wastes the time now and does nothing for results when the seasons change. We have to do what we don’t do well as humans – plan for adversity to try to navigate it as effectively as possible.

As I have said many times before, our brains and bodies are built to survive through adversity but only after it arrives on us. We are not very good at planning for it, but that is part of the reason why we struggle following adversity, because we are left to navigate it as well as our limbic system performs.  Given all of the recent stressors, this is a good time to ensure we navigate the stressors coming down the pipeline to the best of our ability.

The trick is to be reasonable about how to cope with the season change, the cold, the dark coming on.  By reasonable, I mean we have to be specific and realistic. If we say to ourselves as a plan, “I am going to buy snowshoes, skis, and skates and I am going to spend the winter doing outside sports,” we will fail because it is not realistic or specific to change ourselves into outdoors people overnight. 

We need to start by building things into our schedule to look forward to that we already love, more often in different ways. We need to try a couple new things but not bank on those changing the way we feel.  We need to bring the things we love to do outside, inside for the winter. Small tweaks and adjustments are a more guaranteed strategy of accommodating for adversity rather than re-inventing ourselves. The re-invention of ourselves will never occur, except over a long period of time by tweaking and adjusting small tools over time.

Some more suggestions are to plan for increasing indoor coping (interior decorating projects), bridge from indoor tools to outdoor tools (if you are an avid photographer…begin to capture winter scenery), attach a friend outing to the new stuff (hook up with a buddy to try cross country skiing), add romance and emotion to the strategy (music, dance, art, culture having to do with the cold rather than the warm), add nostalgia to tickle the brain’s pleasure center (think hot chocolate, cinnamon, fire places, and cozy pajamas). And when all else fails, act as if you know how to love the cold and the season change and you can fool your brain to some degree.

  1.  Look forward to plan for adversity – your brain needs rehearsal.
  2.  Ask those around you who have already figured it out for their tips and tricks and try them out.  You do not have to love them and they do not have to be right.  But you might, and they might be.
  3. Be realistic about tweaks and adjustments rather than attempting to re-invent your temperament or personality.  The former can work, the ladder only makes you feel worse.
  4. Add bridges from old coping, attach socialization or friendship to the strategy, add emotion, nostalgia, and romance.  
  5. Have compassion for yourself, some seasons are not for everyone, some coping tools are not for everyone, some days, months, and years are not for everyone.  This is a practice of self-care rather than a product of self-actualization. 

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