This COVID winter is wearing on us in different ways and to varying degrees. For many, the social isolation is crushing. On the other hand, I know a few introverts, myself included, who don’t mind the increased opportunities for solitude. Social inclinations aside, no one seems to have escaped the far reaching and wide-ranging impacts of this pandemic without some sort of social, economic, or emotional struggle.
There is no one “guide” to getting through what will likely be the darkest months of this ordeal either. There are, however, plenty of things we can do to take the edge off. We checked in with many of the outdoors experts who contributed to this feature for their own COVID coping tips and strategies. I hope you find some inspiration and solace, along with a few practical ideas from their thoughtful and honest words and that they help make your next few months that much better.
Take It Easy
“The pandemic has been a phenomenal strain on many of us. If we aren’t suffering economically, or from the disease itself, then it’s the emotional toil (or all of it). I think it’s really important for us to practice self-compassion and breathe in the reality that this will pass in time,” says Ammi Midstokke, nutritionist and OTO contributor based in Sandpoint, Idaho.
In normal years, Midstokke says she starts building training into the winter months for spring and summer races. “This year I know that I just don’t have the emotional stamina (and I’m recovering from COVID). I’ve decided to just do things I love with no particular rhyme or reason. If the snow is good, I’ll ski. If I want something slower-paced, I’ll roll out on the fatty. If I need a socially distanced activity with friends, we’ll strap on our snowshoes.”
In general, Midstokke says she’s had to take a softer approach to life and her typical goals, asking herself often: “What is the kindest thing I can do for myself right now? Sometimes it’s knitting and tea. Other times it’s scheduling more damn therapy. And almost always, it involves taking my vitamins and snuggling those I love.”
Go Outside Every Day
“I have stayed plenty sane and busy this COVID season,” says Daniel Shaw, co-owner of Coeur Climbing Company, who attributes his relatively positive experience to the ease of recreating in North Idaho.
“A day doesn’t go by without going outside to recreate and exercise,” he says. “Running is definitely the easiest and quickest to participate in, but I prefer the longer activities like biking, ice climbing, and skiing.
Getting outdoors definitely takes your mind off the challenges of this year…and we are blessed to have so much wilderness to explore here and we can usually avoid the crowds doing it.”
Seek Words of Inspiration
“COVID has hit a lot of people very hard—losing their loved ones or being really, really sick themselves—and I’ve been incredibly lucky so far,” says Dig Chrismer, marketing manager for Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
“With that in mind, I try to focus on the simple things right now. My family is healthy, I live in an amazing place where I can escape outside, and I am acutely aware how fast things can change. I try not to take anything for granted and savor the good moments. Yes, COVID has changed some of the routines in my daily life, but the things that matter most to me are still rock solid. I hold on to that and am grateful every day.”
For others who may not be so fortunate, Chrismer turns to a motivational text that has helped her in the past. “When I was going through a really dark time in my life several years ago, I kept a copy of ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley within easy reach. The poem reminds me time and time again that we are the ones who make our own destiny. ‘I am the master of my fate. The captain of my soul.’
Living isn’t easy but it’s up to me how I react to the challenges placed before me. Sometimes, I don’t like how hard things are. That’s ok. Recognize that things are tough, but you know what? I can survive it. You can too. It’s your ship. Sail it.”
Keep Busy Even If Things Don’t Go Your Way
“I’m feeling barely sane right now,” admits Holly Weiler, OTO contributor & regional trail advocate for Washington Trails Association, when I emailed her some questions for this article before the holidays. “Especially with this weird warm weather of the last week or so. Trail work was helping while that was still happening, but we’re on winter break. I should be skiing but even the mountain has been above freezing.”
While waiting for winter to return, Weiler says she’s been “digging into the backlog of gear repair, trying to mend all of the things I put holes in over the summer and didn’t have time to fix at the time, and that’s been rather meditative and also useful.”
Find Your Stress Outlet
“This fall the toll COVID has taken on my household began to show. Like many of us who enjoy the outdoors my summer was inconvenienced rather than dismantled. But fall came in like a wrecking ball and started messing with everything,” says Zach McCall, an Inland Northwest fishing fanatic.
First in-person school got canceled, followed by fall sports, and then travelling to see family, he says. “Thankfully in this time of chaos fishing has been an outlet that has remained constant. When I am feeling down or need a break to relieve stress, I can find peace and relaxation on the water. Nature has a calming effect on my soul. It allows me to get centered and focus. Nothing helps tune out the noise of the world like spending time on the water.”
Dress for Success
“This pandemic has been so hard mentally. When your brain isn’t in the game it’s hard to motivate yourself. Getting outside as much as possible is what helps me,” says Brenda Christensen, co-owner of Two Wheeler Dealer in Hayden, Idaho.
And the hardest part of getting outside in the winter, she adds, is “actually getting ready and getting out the door, especially the first few times. Not knowing how to dress or what the elements will be like once you get out in them is really hard, as is leaving your nice warm cozy house.” The benefits of persevering and getting out the door are real though, she says. “I can honestly say that I don’t remember a time when I forced myself to go outside that I regretted my decision regardless of the temperature or the weather.”
Set Goals & Prepare for Success
“Setting goals for the following day in the evening and assembling gear—putting running shoes by the door, yoga clothes on the mat, or kayak on the car reduces the number of excuses I can make in the morning,” says Carol Corbin, a freelance OTO contributor and staff member of Inland NW Land Conservancy.
She also recommends finding the right people to get outdoors with. “Reach out to other outdoor friends who also struggle with winter and darkness. Schedule time with them during the workday to do something outside and get what sunlight there is.”
PHOTOS: (top row) OTO co-publisher Derrick Knowles. // Photo: Shallan Knowles (left) | January-February 2021 cover page (right) | (bottom row): Winter urban running. (left) // Photo: Shallan Knowles | Gear by the door, ready to run. (middle) // Photo: Carol Corbin.| Groomed Nordic trail at Mt. Spokane. (right) // Photo courtesy Spokane Nordic Ski Association.