Winter is a tough time of year for many of us. The cold weather and decreased sunshine sends us inside, where it’s easier to isolate. In fact, some of us just want to hibernate. About 5% of adults in the U.S. experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression caused by lessened exposure to sunlight.

Our mental health is more resilient when we stay connected to others, but the need to remain socially distanced will make that difficult this winter. Try out one of these creative ideas to protect yourself from isolation and the possible triggering of situational depression due to the stress of the pandemic.  

1. Surprise Someone

Everyone loves a surprise.

  • Send an old friend or family member a text out of the blue. There’s never been a better time to renew relationships. Better yet, pick up the phone!
  • Send a snail mail gratitude letter or just a postcard saying hi.
  • Surprise them with a treat. Maybe bake some cookies and drop them by someone’s home.

In a New York Times interview, famous Yale professor and Happiness Lab creator Laurie Santos says, “I’m a big fan of surprise presents….people don’t expect a random, tiny gift and a gratitude letter out of the blue. It’s easy to underestimate how powerful that can be to our relationships and how nice that is to get. You’re helping others, but the thing we forget is that it’s a way to boost our well-being, too.”

2. Share a Traditional Family Dish

We all have a favorite holiday dish – tamales, green bean casserole, latkes. Prepare that favorite family recipe and drop some off with family, friends and neighbors, especially those for whom COVID-19 is a higher risk. Have a virtual meal after. Take it up a notch and set up a dish exchange. Want to go non-traditional and try something new? Check out these healthy holiday recipes from Integral Care nutritionists:

Cactus Salad | Chinese New Year-style Dumplings |  Holiday Rice Pudding

3. Join a Virtual Club

Just about anything warrants a club – knitting, gaming, music. You name it. Joanna Goddard of the Cup of Jo blog suggests beating the winter blues with a virtual soup group. Soup group is a cozy winter tradition for Joanna and her friends. She says, “it’s easy and bolstering, and this winter, I’d love to keep it up virtually. Just choose a soup and chat over Zoom while warming your belly.”

A wide variety of free virtual kids clubs are offered by the Camacho Activity Center. In the Creators Club, kids can join together with friends and classmates or meet new people on Zoom for month-long learning experiences like filmmaking and visual design.

4. Learn to Cook or Craft – Together or Apart

A variety of celebrity chefs have free online cooking classes that are perfect for your family to try together. Or if you’re apart, join together on Zoom, someone share their screen, and violà. Research shows that learning something new can improve your mental well-being by boosting self-esteem. And learning something new with others isn’t just a fun adventure, it builds the relationship.

Families can learn to macramé, make holiday candles and more with Camacho Activity Center’s Virtual Family Craft Nights. They offer free classes in November and December.

5. Virtual Gaming – Old or New School

Games are a relationship-building joy for many families and friends. Now, you don’t even have to be in the same home – or the same country – to play board games together. Everything from Scattergories to yes, Pandemic, is playable online. Online gaming exists for every experience level. Steam’s Remote Play Together allows you to share a game with up to four friends remotely, streaming video, audio and voice between players. Practically any game you can imagine playing with friends is available online – MahJongRenju, even the Hanukkah favorite Dreidel.

Photo Credit: Netflix

6. Virtual Bake-Off

There’s a reason the Netflix series Nailed It! is so popular. It’s hilariously fun to watch amateur bakers compete to create the greatest looking sweet treat (and saddest fail). So gather your friends or family, decide on a baked good and set the timer for a virtual bake off. Whether you can bake or not, you’ll have a good time laughing at the results. And we know laughter boosts your mental health.

7. Host a TV Watch Party

Netflix Party and Watch2Gether enable different households to sync up and watch TV and movies together, apart. So, cue up your favorites and get to watching.

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