ActiveWellness: Winter … A Time For Home!

Don’t let gloomy days and cold weather get you down this year. Plan for fun, companionship, outings, and maybe a new hobby! By Katherine Findlay

There’s not a lot of romance in a New Zealand winter. Comparatively few of us wake up to the gentle pitter of snowflakes on the window pane. It’s more likely to be the sound of rain – again. Fifty shades of grey skies and a general aura of dampness and drabness, punctuated by an occasional watery sun.

Sensible animals hibernate in winter. Kiwis? Well, most of us just have to hunker down and make the best of things. If you are self-managing health or disability needs, or caring for someone at home, winter can be a challenging time of year. Weather can affect the way we feel, especially if we are cooped up all day.

Cold winter weather can mean boredom, depression and rising tension in the home. So it makes good sense to make plans for winter, not just for activities that can be shared by everyone in the household, but plans to take care of yourself, to make winter, as English poet Dame Edith Sitwell wrote, “the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is a time for home”.

So let’s take a closer look at those rosy winter sentiments.

First of all, comfort. I don’t want to sound like your granny, but are you wearing enough warm clothes? Seriously, now’s the time for those fluffy slippers, ugg boots, woolly scarves and hats, and layers of merino wool. Or buying that amazing dressing gown you’ve always fancied. How about knitting yourself (or someone you love) a warm scarf.

How warm is your home? Heating is expensive, but if your house isn’t insulated, now’s the time to consider it while government assistance for home insulation is still available. Make sure that curtains are drawn and draughty gaps under doors are covered. You’d be amazed at how much warmth can be kept in that way.

While there is nothing quite like the comfort of a roaring open fire, not many homes these days have them, but there are wood-burning heating systems that are environmentally friendly and worth exploring. And if you don’t have your own open fire, how about inviting yourself over to share someone else’s? You can be the one who brings the marshmallows to toast while you chat and sip hot chocolate!

Winter provides wonderful excuses to cook nourishing and comforting food. Soup in a can or packet isn’t a patch on homemade for either taste or cost, so how about tracking down some old family recipes? One of the lingering memories from my growing up is of the pot of steaming pea soup on the stove after school, just the thing to tide a hungry child over till dinnertime. And winter really is the ideal time for eating Christmas pudding, so why not get festive and plan a midwinter Christmas dinner with all the trimmings?

Then there is the touch of a friendly hand. So often we are too busy to stop and listen to others, to reach out. Many older people, especially those who have lost their life partner, are deprived of the joy of touching and being touched. Be generous with hugs and don’t forget the joy that a pet, or a visit from a small child, can bring to a person who is alone. Massage is another way of showing care, though some may be a bit shy of the idea. Maybe suggest a gentle shoulder rub, or a foot massage. If you can access a foot spa and add in some scented oil, you can create a real treat for someone you care about. Good for self-care too!

Enriching conversations on a cold, miserable day can be uplifting for the spirits, especially if you can share a good laugh. It’s amazing how we can go through days being with loved ones, too busy to really find out what’s going on for them. All relationships need nurturing. listen without interrupting, and ask open questions – the kind that don’t just get ‘yes’, ‘no’ or a grunt in answer. Make one day a special ‘talk don’t text day’ with whoever is at home.

A time for home doesn’t mean you need to be inactive. Most winter days offer some small window of opportunity to get out for a walk or into the garden.

If you are lazy about exercise, get in some exercise DVDs and work out with a friend. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a Wii, you can have great fun as well as exercise. Have a cup of tea together afterwards.

And ‘at home’ time is great for hobbies, crafts and getting round to trying out long- harboured desires like sketching, playing the piano, or collecting family stories.

It’s all a matter of planning to embrace winter and truly make it your season for home!

The Downside of Winter

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that affects people most often in winter. It’s believed that lack of sunlight affects the production of melatonin, a body chemical that regulates sleep. If you feel more down or irritated than usual and the feeling persists for more than two weeks, or if your sleeping and eating patterns are interrupted, talk to your doctor. There are treatments for this form of depression. In general make sure you keep warm, try to get some form of regular exercise, and eat a balanced diet (give or take a few of those wonderful winter indulgences). It’s no accident that citrus fruit, kiwifruit and tamarillos are plentiful in winter – nature provides the vitamins we need to ward off colds and other winter nasties, so don’t skimp on these fruits. Vitamin D is another important vitamin when sunlight is limited, particularly for older people. Check with your doctor to see if you need extra to stay well and make these winter months fly.

Ward off the winter blues!

  • Bring out those old board games. It’s amazing how much fun a game of Scrabble, Monopoly or even Snakes’n’ladders can be!
  • Try out a new winter soup recipe
  • Start a book club (even if it’s only you and one or two others discussing what you love to read and why).
  • Write names and dates on the backs of those old family photographs.
  • Learn a new language (there are plenty of free online resources) and plan an overseas trip where you’ll speak it (fluently of course)!
  • Join a choir. Community singing is one of the fastest growing activities and you don’t have to be a star; or…organise a singalong of your old faves at home. Find someone who can play or bring an instrument, or has a home karaoke programme!
  • Connect with a special place (this may be a beach or a park) and go there regularly whatever the weather.
  • If you don’t have a dog, offer to walk someone else’s – pooches are such people magnets!
  • Go along to that local community exercise class; if it’s zumba, so much the better!
  • Organise a home quiz night and make it a gold coin fundraiser for a favourite charity.
  • Turn off the phone, light candles, run a hot bath, pour in the bath goodies, and relax. An oldie but still a goodie.
  • Phone someone you haven’t talked to in a long time or get into Skype to talk with family and friends who live far away; download it free.
  • Laughter is the best medicine. Watch comedy shows, collect and tell jokes, play charades.
  • Throw a themed dress-up party.
  • Plant some veggies. This will get you outdoors, plus homegrown vegetables are good for your health, and taste so much fresher than shop-bought produce.