A Recipe for Joy in a Pandemic Winter: Prepare Your Heart & Mind

Despite best efforts to extend the summer, autumn is here. Back-to-school has given way to colourful foliage, apples and pumpkins. Sweaters and boots have replaced summer linen. Shorter, colder days are slowly arriving. And, for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, a historic winter lies ahead: our first pandemic winter. 

After 99 days in lockdown last spring – and the threat of further measures – I cringe at the thought of spending yet more hours inside my home. Chatting with friends, I realised I’m not alone. So, a few weeks ago, I decided I’d craft a blogpost on how we might prepare.

As if listening, Mother Nature dropped by with some cold, dreary, rainy days that gave me a case of seasonal blues. Unable to write, I was like a cat after a fight, licking my wounds, hiding from the world for a bit, trying to soothe myself.  Soon the blues gave way and my recipe for creating a more joyous pandemic winter was born. 

There are three significant steps to this recipe, which I will share in a series of three posts: prepare your heart and mind (below); create cosy comfort; and seasonally stock your kitchen & bar. 

Served together, in the cocoon you call home, this recipe is designed to comfort you, and bring a sense of lightness and order to your life. It’s self-care for your heart, mind and home. As I’ve started to prepare for winter in this way, I’m feeling nurtured and recharged, and I’m sleeping better. 

Of course, there’s no way to truly escape the harsh realities of our world. But, you can take steps to help you keep them in perspective and – when you need them to be – out of your heart, head and home. Your wellbeing is worth the effort.

Read on for tips on how to prepare your heart and mind; the rest of the recipe will be posted soon!

Step 1: Prepare Your Heart & Mind

This first step is about adopting an outlook that will support you, and, in turn, your ability to help others: embrace the now.

I’ve put this step first because I think the health of our hearts and minds is foundational to our ability to create joy. So, although cosying up your home and stocking your kitchen and bar for the season can set the scene, they’re not really going to work if you’re unable to accept the present.

Here are 3 strategies that I learned at a recent retreat offered by London Mindfulness which are helping me to prepare my heart and mind for the upcoming winter:

  1. set aside time each day to reflect on the present moment, acknowledge your feelings & let go;
  2. break the cycle of fear or anxiety by naming it; and
  3. open up to the possibility of now.
Set aside time each day to reflect on the present moment, acknowledge your feelings and let go.  

The state of our world is tough right now; I’ve found it critical to have a way to turn inward and reflect. 

Dedicating time each day to pause and practice mindfulness really works for me. I usually pause for 5-10 minutes in the morning while I drink my tea, and again in evening as I usually have more time. I’ll also take brief pauses during the day – even 3 minutes here and there – if needed. 

During those times I focus on noticing my thoughts, feelings and behaviours – as well as how I’m experiencing them. Then, rather than let those thoughts or feelings take on a life of their own, I acknowledge them and let them go. 

But the important first step is setting aside the time.  Without dedicating time you’ll never fully bring your attention to the present moment. 

Break the cycle of fear or anxiety by naming it.  

When I’m engaged in mindfulness practice, it’s been very helpful to name the thoughts, feelings or behaviours I experience – rather than ignore them or wish they’d just go away. 

For example, if I’m really stressed, or worried, or angry, I slow down, pause for a few minutes and breathe.  Even a brief pause provides enough space for me to notice what’s affecting my experience of life at that moment. I can more clearly see the thought or feeling for what it is and name it.  

In that moment, I stop reacting to whatever that is – even briefly – and somehow the stress it was creating ends. I then feel a sense of calm and can deliberately choose how I want to respond. 

I try to let most things go in the moment, even if it is something I choose to address directly later. By letting go, I reduce its power over the present. I’m left in control and at peace.

Breaking the cycle of fear or anxiety can be hard work, but, with practice, it’s become an essential part of maintaining my wellbeing.

Open up to the possibility of now.  

The pandemic has made it clear that we only ever have control over the present; we just thought we also had control over tomorrow.

So, what if we all leaned into this lesson? Accept the present the way it is. Maybe this new reality will give way to something totally unexpected that couldn’t have been imagined or planned.

I have always been a planner and a lot of my professional work to date has focused on the future. Surrendering to the present was hard at first, but doing so has released a lot of stress and worry that I otherwise would’ve held onto. 

Now, I try to show up each day grateful for the present and curious about what gifts might come my way. To be honest, it’s the only thing I can do, and it’s working really well.

As winter approaches, be open to the possibility of now. You’ll be surprised at how many new aspects of life you will notice already happening around you today.

Theory In Practice

It rained buckets this past weekend for two days straight and I felt grumpy and a bit down. 

Dragged down by negativity, I had to work harder than usual to pause to notice and accept those thoughts and feelings. I was pretty grouchy, so it also took some work for me to see them for what they were – a variety of negative emotions that were mostly about nothing. Then, rather than let them rule my weekend, I acknowledged them and let them go.

Instead, I organised my house, changed out my clothes for the season. I dug out my wellies and put my raincoat on over a chunky sweater, and took a long walk in the park with my dog. 

When I returned, I got cosy in my house, cooked seasonal food which made the house smell lovely, opened up a beautiful bottle of full-bodied red wine, put on some music and had a warm evening of conversation with my husband and my son. I ended up having a terrific weekend, rain and all.

Mindfulness takes practice, and, if you’re like me, you won’t get it right the first time, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you start to put space between your experience of the world, and your response to it. 

In that space, you’ll not only find the present, you’ll find your true self and peace – the first three critical ingredients to experiencing joy and delight during this historic pandemic winter.

– Janine Mathó, Simply Eau-de-Vie

With your heart and mind in sync, read on for part 2 of this series for tips on creating cosy comfort at home.
And check back soon for part 3 on how to Seasonally Stock Your Kitchen & Bar.

Cheers!
-Janine

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